LIVE OAK — Despite concerns over whether it will be eligible for grant funding, the Suwannee County Board of County Commissioners moved ahead with an agreement for a rail crossing at the catalyst site.

The board unanimously approved the agreement for the crossing with Florida Gulf & Atlantic Railroad LLC and then unanimously greenlighted the release of the $360,187 payment for work on the crossing to begin at its Feb. 4 meeting.

The rail crossing at 175th Road was part of the county’s plan for a Community Development Block Grant at the site, along with turn lanes on U.S. Highway 90 into the site and part of the construction of 175th Road from the crossing — the county also has received $350,000 in state appropriations for that road work.

Randy Harris mug

Randy Harris, Suwannee County Administrator

However, County Administrator Randy Harris expressed his concerns to the board at its Feb. 4 meeting about the county being able to recoup the cost through that grant funding, which is tied to job growth at the catalyst site.

Harris said Matco is up and running at the catalyst site, but as a smaller operation only employs around 14 people.

Instead, Harris’ concern stems from the lack of clarity provided by Klausner Lumber One about its plans.

“They don’t have much going on at all,” he said of the lumber yard. “I’m hoping to hear something back soon from a representative of the company to see what they’re going to do and when.

“What I don’t want to do is to spend the money from that grant and not get reimbursed or have to pay the money back because the jobs weren’t created.”

Harris said if the county uses the CDBG funding, a second crossing would have to be constructed further north across the rail spur the county had installed at the site as well as paving 50th Street. He added the county doesn’t have a need for that second crossing.

“If the company isn’t going to produce the jobs, then we don’t need to go through the exercise,” Harris said, noting the “prudent” thing for the county to do if there is no indication the jobs will be created is to just pay for the one crossing itself.

Board Chairman Len Stapleton said the situation is “frustrating and disappointing.”

“I’m not interested in spending one more dollar of Suwannee County’s taxpayers’ money for anything they are doing because they’re not willing to come to the table and talk to us about their plans moving forward,” Stapleton said. “They have let us go out on this branch by ourselves.”

Those frustrations were echoed by commissioners Ricky Gamble, Don Hale and Ronnie Richardson as well. Clyde Fleming declined to comment under the advisement of County Attorney Jimmy Prevatt.

Gamble and Harris, though, said the county must construct the crossing on 175th Road. Closing a primitive crossing for the construction of the rail spur impacted residents in the area, who now much travel back to Falmouth, plus the lack of a crossing has meant trucks coming to Matco’s site are also traveling on the narrow 50th Street from Falmouth.

“I’ve got the funds for this hidden in a shoebox,” Harris joked. “I’ve seen this coming for a long time.”

Jamie Wachter is the editor of the Suwannee Democrat, Jasper News and Mayo Free Press.

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