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County Commissioner Brandon Newsom calls for start to Project Gateway land clearing


Holmes County Commissioner Brandon Newsom is looking for a request for price quotes (RFQ) to go out so lumber at the Project Gateway site starts getting cleared to make way for the coming new Busy Bee location, among other features.

Newsom mentioned wanting to get the ball rolling on Project Gateway during a Board of County Commissioners (BOCC) meeting on Tuesday, Jan. 2. No official decision was made on an RFQ during the meeting, though the overall issue is expected to be discussed further during a future BOCC meeting.

During a Dec. 13 BOCC meeting, the BOCC unanimously passed a motion to send a proposal to the State Legislature requesting $4.6 million in funding awarded by the governor’s office initially intended as a rural infrastructure grant be used for Project Gateway, according to the meeting minutes, 

The timber project listed on the grant application fell through. The County said it may be allowed to keep the funding for another local economic development project. 

“The biggest thing is just getting that cleared off out there,” Newsom said. “The first step is getting the trees and the next step is actually putting it out for bid for clearing through the grant that we have. I believe we’ll be able to use the $4-and-a-half million dollar grant to engineer and clear that property and de-stump it out there.” 

County Commissioner Clint Erickson said he agreed with Newsom. 

The County “wants to get the best price you can get for the lumber out there,” Newsom said. 

Project Gateway is a joint venture between the County and Holmes County Development Commission, which is a separate agency tasked with stimulating economic activity in the area. Along with the new Busy Bee location at the southwest corner of Interstate-10, Project Gateway is also intended to include separate hotel and retail space.

Newsom and Development Commission Executive Director Joe Rone have recently had a war of words during BOCC meetings over Newsom’s concerns that the Busy Bee project has not yet started and the financial implications to the County over such, among other matters related to the Development Commission.

Rone was not at the Jan. 2 meeting. However, Rone did address aspects of Project Gateway and the BOCC’s discussions and request to the State Legislature days after the meeting when reached for comment.

“The property has always been in the Development Commission’s name. The grant was not for Project Gateway but was for our Project OSB, a $255 million plant that manufactures OSB panels. It came down to us (Holmes County) and a location in Alabama. The state on the last day gave us $10 million in incentives for that project,” Rone said. “Unfortunately, it went to Alabama but the state allowed us to keep the $4 million to get our industrial/commercial site ready for future business. It was never intended for Project Gateway or Busy Bee. We may be able to use some of the funding for Project Gateway.”

The $4.6 million was granted after losing out on Project OSB due to the state reportedly being impressed with the Development Commission’s effort in attempting to attract the company to Holmes County, Rone said. The Development Commission worked with regional partners in the effort.

“The backstory on that money–the County didn’t write their own application for that money,” Rone said. “The Development Commission applied for that funding.” 

The way the Development Commission interpreted the BOCC’s motion was to ask the state if the funds could be applied to another project, mainly Project Gateway, Rone said.

“Here’s the question: the project that was associated with those funds was an industrial project, not retail,” Rone said. “Project Gateway is a retail/hotel place of commerce site. It’s a different nature of business, so we weren’t sure if the state was going to say, ‘Sure, you can put those funds wherever you want it’ or if they wanted to see us apply those funds to a similar project. We just wanted to see if there were strings attached to that money.” 

As part of the BOCC’s Dec. 13 motion, the BOCC agreed for the County’s name to be placed on the Project Gateway property as needed. Erickson made the motion, which was seconded by Commissioner Earl Stafford.

Though the Development Commission initially thought they could not be the passthrough for the funds, they have since learned they can be, Rone said.

“So we don’t need the county to own any real estate in order for us to receive those funds,” Rone said. “The need for it to be in their name is not necessary for us to be able to use these grants.” 

The deed for the property is still in the Development Commission’s name. The Development Commission Board of Directors would have to decide if the deed would be passed to the County’s name and there has been no discussion with the Board of Directors on doing so, Rone said. 

“It really doesn’t matter whose name it is,” Erickson said during the Dec. 2 meeting. “We just got to work together.” 

A committee overseeing Project Gateway, which includes BOCC Chairman Jeff Good and County Project Director David Corbin, will meet to discuss the matters raised during the BOCC meeting. 

“The Project Gateway joint venture is still in place,” Rone said. “It was created because the County does not have the expertise to make this project successful. We do and will make this very successful if we can keep the politics out of this project.” 

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