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Natchez hires help in procuring disaster relief funds due to winter storm damage

NATCHEZ — City of Natchez officials are soliciting the help of a private Bentonville, Arkansas-based disaster relief company to help secure monetary aid from the Federal Emergency Management Agency for the devastation caused by winter storms last week.

The Natchez Mayor and Board of Aldermen voted unanimously to hire ER Assist Disaster Funding Solutions during their Tuesday meeting.

Susan Hartman of ER Assist said the company would only be paid for their work in assessing storm damage for the city if the city receives funds from FEMA.

Hartman said FEMA takes 5 percent of the total claim and adds that to the funds allocated and it’s out of that 5 percent pot that ER Assist would receive payment for their work.

“Everything that we would do for the city will be reimbursed and if there is not a FEMA declaration then we simply won’t bill the city for the work,” Hartman said.

Natchez Mayor Dan Gibson said he reached out to the company as a means to help the city with disaster clean-up due to the devastation and debris left by the storm.

Additionally, the city is working on a cleanup plan for curbside pickup of storm debris from private residences.

In the meantime, citizens are asked to put tree and brush debris on the curb by their home clear of the road.

“It is incumbent upon us to work by all means necessary to get money to assist us with cleaning up storm debris,” Gibson said, adding work crews have been overwhelmed by the number of fallen trees and tree limbs at the city cemetery, streets and parks.

Gibson thanked first responders, Natchez and Adams County Public Works Crews, and linemen for their tireless efforts during the storm and also thanked citizens for their efforts to conserve water during the city’s water crisis.

Broken pipes and leaks drained the city’s water lines, which consequentially caused the city to lose water pressure and issue a boil water advisory.

The advisory, which lasted nearly a week, was lifted at 5 p.m. Tuesday.

“God truly has blessed us even through the storm,” Gibson said.

In other matters during Tuesday’s meeting, Gibson said the city is close to reaching a lease agreement of former train depot on Broadway Street to filmmakers Tate Taylor and John Norris of Church Hill Variety and a sale agreement for the Margaret Martin Performing Arts Center to the J Collection, a New Orleans based hotel group.

Church Hill Variety intends to renovate the depot as a restaurant and event space with a small seating area and amphitheater on the side facing the Mississippi River.

The J Collection, which purchased Dunleith in 2019, intends to restore Margaret Martin as an event space and make it an extension of the services that will be offered at Dunlieth.

The city is waiting for appraisers to finish appraisals for both facilities, which are needed before the transactions can move forward, Gibson said.

“We are ready to proceed with the lease on the depot. We’re still waiting on the appraisals. Same thing with Margaret Martin. They are ready to buy it. Just waiting, again, on appraisals,” Gibson said.

Gibson also said he had productive meetings with international investors in Atlanta, Georgia last week before the winter storm.

Gibson did not specify who the potential investors were, however, said the meeting could lead to “new industry” for the city.

“We have some investors interested in making a trip to Natchez in April that could lead to some industry,” Gibson said. “I’m very excited about some good possibilities there. I cannot talk too much about them but we’re excited to have these international investors here in April.”

Additionally, Gibson said he met Danny Filson, Executive Director at the Savannah College of Art and Design, for a potential partnership in Natchez’s creative economy.

“They do everything from film and performing arts to design,” Gibson said. “The opportunities for partnership here are limitless. Tate Taylor and John Norris are involved and we’ll see what happens.”

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