Amory schools to begin random drug testing

AMORY — The Amory School District has been awarded a federal grant of $97,436 for drug prevention efforts in the coming school year.
The grant was part of $5.8 million that the U.S. Department of Education awarded to 49 schools in 20 states.
According to Amory Superintendent of Education Jim Sappington, this money will allow the school district to begin random drug testing of students  involved in any extracurricular activities in seventh through twelfth grades. All students who participate in any extracurricular activity that involves them in competition in any way with students from other schools could potentially be tested for drug use. This includes such activities as band, chorus, sports, vocational clubs, Envirothon team, math and science competitions and other such events.
Parents will be notified of the drug-testing program when the students sign up for extracurricular activities and their names will be entered into a pool of students which will be randomly selected for testing through a urine sample. A private company will perform the drug testing and provide results to the school. Drugs that will be tested for include but are not limited to the following: alcohol, amphetamines, metahamphetamine, barbituates, cocaine, marijuana, opiates, PCP, steroids.
If a student tests positive, Sappington said, “We’ll identify these kids’ drug use to their parents and remove them from extracurricular activities for 30 days and then test them again,” Sappington said. “The results will remain confidential.”
Sappington said the aim is to identify students early who are having problems with illegal substances and to get them help, then get on with the business of educating them. Because the drug testing program will be an entirely new process for the school district, Sappington said they will move slowly with it at first and make adjustments as they see the need.
Sappington told Amory School Board members at their June 9 meeting the grant will pay for one of the district’s full-time school nurse positions and will enable the drug testing program to get started in the fall.
In May 2007, Amory athletic director and head football coach Pat Byrd recommended the district begin random drug testing. The board adopted a drug-testing policy last summer, but had not implemented the screening program yet. Some area school districts, such as Itawamba and Tupelo, already have similar drug screening programs in effect.
“I’m proud of our athletic director (Pat Byrd) for coming forth and pushing for this. It’s not the easiest thing to do. A lot of schools just pretend the problem doesn’t exist.”
The school district’s grant writer, Carol Rogers, applied for the federal funds for the drug-testing program and now the program can be put into place, Sappington said.
The $97,000 the district was awarded is for the first year of the program and has money for start-up, including staff training and student pre-education about drug screening. It also includes the cost for screening students. The program also will include providing information to parents on resources for counseling of students who test positive for drug use. The school district will not be involved in any treatment of students who test positive.
“We’re not trying to expel kids or throw kids into the slammer,” Sappington said. “What we’re trying to do is get rid of a problem that we think a lot of our kids have.”
Sappington said the testing and results will be very confidential.
The district will receive two more years of federal funding for this program, bringing its total to about $290,000 over three years.
“It’s a positive approach to dealing with it,” Sappington said. “But it’s a ratger costly project.”
The random drug screening will be a continual process at the high school, occurring nearly every week targeting different randomly selected students.
Rogers said she felt the drug testing program was needed. She said a survey of middle school students here revealed  some are using a wide range of drugs and illegal substances, even at higher than national levels for their age.
Since the Supreme Court upheld the constitutionality of school-based random student drug testing in 1995 and 2002, the demand for drug testing has outpaced the Department of Education’s grant award program.
In the past five years, student drug testing has gained participants. More than 4,000 schools nationwide have implemented a random student drug testing program to promote a healthy learning environment and to shield young people from addictive substances.
Other school districts in Mississippi besides Amory receiving drug prevention grants in this go-round include districts in Brandon, Macon and Lucedale.

Recycle steel mill to locate in Amory

AMORY — A manufacturer that produces rebar from recycled steel plans to locate in Amory’s Waterway Industrial Park. It will be the biggest industrial investment ever for North Monroe County.
EcoSteel Recycling, LLC has applied for environmental permits and announced plans to construct a steel recycling facility on about 80 acres of city-owned land on the waterway, south of the Domtar (formerly Weyerhaeuser) wood-chipping facility.  EcoSteel Recycling is what the industry refers to as a “green field project” as it is a newly created company, not affiliated with other existing companies, constructed at a previously undeveloped site. Eco Steel’s total investment in Amory is expected to be in excess of $150 million.
According to EcoSteel Recycling President and CEO Louis Colatriano, the steel mill will consume about 330,000 tons of scrap steel a year, converting it into 300,000 tons of rebar.
Rebar is a steel reinforcing product used in most major concrete construction projects, especially in bridge and highway construction. Company officials said the U.S. imports billions of tons of foreign-manufactured rebar annually, but U.S. law prohibits use of foreign-made rebar on federal highways and bridges. Because of the Buy America regulation, EcoSteel Recycling sees a tremendous opportunity to market its rebar.
The plant is expected to be about a 100,000-square-foot facility capable of producing long steel rebar product.
Colatriano said the process the company will use is “the epitome of recycling.”  They will recycle scrap steel such as scrap cars, refrigerators and other appliances. The company uses electrical energy to melt the scrap metal. Once it is in a liquid state,  a continuous casting process produces steel billets. It is then transported into a rolling mill to be reduced and eventually the rebar is cut to length and shipped out to customers.
Incoming scrap steel will come to the plant by rail, barge  and truck. The outbound finished rebar product will move primarily by truck  and rail.
“Steel is the most recycled material on earth and we are glad to be doing our part in this recycling effort,” he said.
EcoSteel Recycling’s target market will be the Katrina rebuilding effort and other construction, especially highway and bridges, within a 350 mile radius of Amory.

Jobs Created
The facility is expected to create at least 100 direct full-time jobs with a pay scale that is competitive within the industry plus a competitive benefit package, including a 401(k) program.
There will also be a great number of indirect jobs created in the area around the plant in trucking, cleaning trucks,gas stations, supplying materials and fabricating. Colatriano  estimated about 75 indirect jobs, with pay averaging from $35,000 to $40,000 annually. He said steel mills traditionally create numerous jobs besides those directly within the mill.
The jobs will not be at capacity levels until the mill is in full production within about three years after groundbreaking. Construction on the plant is expected to begin by year end and will take about 18 months to complete. At the peak of construction, Boozer said there will be 700 to 800 construction workers on site. Colatriano said it will then take about 18 months to “ramp up” the facility to full  production.
Most employees are expected to be hired locally, some skilled workers will be sought, while others will be trained through a training program that is part of the company’s business plan. The company will be working through the local community colleges and Three Rivers Planning and Development and job fairs to hire and train its work force. Hiring will occur simultaneously with construction on the mill.

Site selection
The company chose Amory for its steel mill for several reasons. “We’ve been delighted with Mississippi,” Colatriano said.
There was a lot of momentum for this type of industry in Mississippi following the Mississippi Development Authority’s (MDA’s) recruitment of other major industries to the state.
The MDA, ARC (Appalachian Regional Commission), and the low cost of TVA power helped land this company in Amory. Also among factors for its selection of the site was cooperation from Amory city officials and the Monroe County supervisors who, Colatriano said, “embraced the project.”
“It’s really a true partnership,” he said, of local, state and federal entities.

Local commitment
The city’s commitment to the project is to provide necessary infrastructure on the site. A heavy-duty road is already in place at the industrial park, that was funded through grants over the past several years beginning in 2001. The city has secured a Multi-Modal MDOT grant to pay for extension of the city’s rail spur to the steel mill site.
The city expects to issue a bond for water, sewer and electrical infrastructure at the site. Before issuing any type of bond, a public hearing would be held.
According to Mayor Howard Boozer, the city and county are participating in the project as a team and a plan is in the works to put no additional tax burden on the public even when issuance of bonds becomes necessary. Boozer said they are currently pursuing all grants possible to keep local expense for any improvements to the industrial park minimal. The plant site is raw land that has never before been developed.
“This will build the tax base, not burden local taxpayers,” Boozer said. “This project will have the largest favorable impact ever on the tax base of the city of Amory and North Monroe County.”
Mayor Boozer said other companies will take note of a project the size of EcoSteel Recycling locating here. The infrastructure being developed at the industrial park for the steel mill will lay the foundation for other economic development projects there in the future.
The company doesn’t foresee any significant negative environmental impact on the Amory area. Colatriano said there will not be excessive noise from the manufacturing process and that they will
conform to environmental standards using the BACT (Best Available Control Technology) standards for emissions.
A formal groundbreaking ceremony will be held at the industrial site in the coming months.

Monroe County votes for Childers

In the May 13 runoff election for the U.S. House of Representatives District 1 seat, the majority of Monroe Countians voters went with Booneville native Travis Childers, a Democrat. With 25 of 25 precincts in Monroe County reporting, 3,591 votes were cast for Childers and 1,869 for Republican Greg Davis of Southaven.

Childers will serve the remaining portion of former representative and now interim Senator Roger Wicker’s term then face the general election for a full term in November. Childers will face Davis as well as Independent Wally Pang and Green Party member John Wages in the general election for the District 1 House seat.

Kinder Morgan announces expansion at port

AMORY — An approximate $12.8 million expansion has been announced by Kinder Morgan Energy Partners, the company that leases the city’s port and handles material loading and unloading there. The expansion will allow the company to handle raw materials for SeverStal, the new steel mill in Columbus.
According to company officials, the expansion at the bulk terminal facility will provide additional infrastructure to help meet the growing need for carbon products in the Southeast due to increased steel making in the region.
With the expansion, Kinder Morgan will receive carbon products by barge, rail and truck, for use in producing steel in the region.
The expansion is expected to create about four to six new jobs directly and more indirectly, such as in trucking. Because the city receives a tonnage fee for all materials that move across the city’s port on the Tenn-Tom Waterway, the expansion will increase tonnage fee revenue for the city.
New infrastructure that will be added to the terminal includes a 12,000-square-foot building to house a dryer and screener, two 400-ton silos for storage of materials, 400 feet of train track and a 100,000-pound truck scale.
“This expansion project will enable Kinder Morgan Terminals to help meet the demand for carbon at the recently opened SeverCorr facility in Columbus, Miss., as well as other steel mills in the Southeast,” said Jeff Armstrong, president of the Kinder Morgan Terminals business segment. “As the nation’s leading bulk terminal operator, we continuously look for opportunities to provide additional services to our customers, improve efficiencies and grow our business.”
Last year Kinder Morgan unloaded, stored and blended about 350,000 tons of mineral product and loaded over 3,500 rail cars at the Amory terminal. Its principle customer in Monroe County is Tronox in Hamilton.
Construction on the expansion is scheduled to begin late in the second quarter of this year, with completion expected in the fall of 2008.

AHS Envirothon Team wins state title …. again

Amory High School’s Envirothon Team won first place in state competition last week, qualifying its members for international competition in Flagstaff, Ariz. in late July. This is the team’s seventh state title out of nine years of competition. Envirothon competition is a hands-on activity in which high schoolers are callenged in several different environmental categories of knowledge — wildlife, soils, aquatics, forestry and a current issue. Amory High’s team members are Kishan Patel, Sarah Trautman, Lauren Finley, Vincent Leray and Alec Smith. Team advisor is Mrs. Lisa Herndon, AHS math instructor.

Guthrie’s sets sights on Amory

A Guthrie’s restaurant, a fast food chain specializing in chicken fingers, has announced plans to locate on Hwy. 278 East in Amory. The restaurant had been looking at a building near the Mississippian railroad tracks on the north side of Hwy. 278 for about a year now, said city planner Russell Butler. They have not gotten any building permits or privilege licenses with the city yet, however. The restaurant’s corporate Web site says they are “coming soon” to Amory and to Picayune, MS.

Railroad Festival attracts record crowd

Amory’s 30th annual Railroad Festival went into the history books as a major success, attracting one of the biggest crowds ever.
While rain is seldom a stranger to this spring event, this year’s dose of rainfall came on Friday night, in the form of a thunderstorm that caused the cancellation of all of that evening’s musical acts and chased the crowds away. But first thing Saturday morning, city crews were in the park preparing it for all the guests.
Festival co-chairmen Heather Holman and Debra Strawbridge said the event came off well considering all the details that need to be handled to stage a party this size.
Country music legend Marty Stuart got things started Thursday, playing to an overflow crowd, many who had placed their folding chairs in Frisco Park to reserve their spot a day or two ahead of time. The crowd stood all the way to First Ave. to hear Stuart sing. He said he loved being in a place like Amory. “I love small town America,” he said. “This is a great way to start my tour.”
Stuart said he enjoyed a cheeseburger in Amory that was “the size of a hubcap.”
With BNSF trains signaling their arrival to Amory’s railroad yards beside the downtown park, Amory Mayor Howard Boozer welcomed everyone to this rail city. He gave a special welcome to the hobo guests who he called “faithful hobo friends” who come every year from all over the country. He also cited all the work that has to be done by the festival committee of volunteers.
Boozer said upwards of 60,000 people attend the festival over its four-day run.
“Families use the festival as a special time of reunion …,” he said.
The food court was one of the most popular venues for festivalgoers, with apple fritters, snowcones and funnel cakes taking the spotlight. Some churches’ booths had to shut down early because they had totally run out of food.
A record number of antique and classic car enthusiasts turned out Saturday to compete in the car show due to the sunny skies that prevailed Saturday and Sunday.
The 5K run also attracted about 165 runners of all ages with a Plantersville runner, Israel Melendez, capturing first place, covering the route in just over 16 minutes.