Valley mayor speaks at Lions Club

Published 7:25 am Thursday, June 18, 2020

VALLEY — On Monday evening, the Valley Lions Club had its first meeting since the stay-at-home recommendations were put in place by the Alabama Department of Public Health in March. The meeting took place at San Marcos Restaurant with Valley Mayor Leonard Riley serving as the guest speaker.

Club President Phillip Sparks welcomed everyone and talked about community projects that had been continuing through the past several months.

“It’s good to see everyone again,” he said. “I’m glad we were able to keep our projects going. We were able to feed the staff at the Chambers County 911 Center and let them know how much we appreciate them and what they do. We made a $300 donation to the Interfaith Food Closet. We now have 10 certificates that will help local people in need buy groceries at Givorns in Valley. I’ve given out two of them, and we have eight more to distribute.”

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Roy McClendon discussed giving fruit to the 135 seniors who are receiving meals at home through the Valley Senior Center program. Fellow members liked the idea and agreed to send two apples and two oranges to each recipient. The fruit will be delivered by bus on the regular distribution route. Club members will meet to fill the bags.

Riley said the shutdown had affected everyone and that it would take time to get back to a sense of normalcy. Riley said the city didn’t miss a beat in providing services to the citizens.

Land clearing work on approximately 1,200 acres of land owned by the city is nearing an end. The city’s Public Works Department has been clearing stumps and burning debris piles for close to three years now.

“We have about 60 acres left, and then we’ll be finished,” Riley said.

Two companies have located in Valley Industrial Park. WestRock has a 375,000-square-foot distribution center of Industrial Drive and Four Star Freightliner has a truck sales, maintenance and repair business in plain view of the interstate. It is accessed by a new road: Four Star Drive.

Riley said the city had come close but lost out on some good industrial prospects in the last couple of years. He thought that would be changing with the ongoing effort to increase water pressure and water volume in the park. A 750,000-gallon water storage tank has been built and is now being painted. It’s located in the Rehobeth Heights neighborhood off Fairfax Bypass. At the same time, a $730,000 pump house is being built off 55th Street. A water line made up of 10-inch pipes is forming a circle around the park. This will provide the kind of water pressure and volume industrial prospects are looking for. With all this going on, Riley said he was confident in having good news to report in the not-too-distant future on new industry coming here.

Riley said that a lot has been going on recently at the John Soules Foods site off Towel Avenue. The Tyler, Texas-based company initially made a $120 million commitment to locate a new plant in Valley. That’s now up to the $140 million range. Production could start in July 2021 and be up to full capacity within five years. That will mean five production lines and an estimated 500 employees.

The mayor likes that they are hiring local contractors to do the work that’s needed. Three new buildings are going up outside the 266,000-square-foot main building that was once a distribution center for WestPoint Stevens. Two of the new buildings are being built by Batson-Cook with the third one being built by Harmon Engineering. Brumfield Electrical & Communications (BEC) is doing the electrical work, and Mikey Givorns has been hauling in fill dirt.

“He’s been hauling in 15,000 yards of it,” Riley said. “They lost 120 days of work due to COVID-19 but are moving at a good pace now.”

Riley said Chambers County had been hit hard by the virus and that we weren’t out of the woods with it yet.

“Our sales tax is okay,” he said. “That’s because local people have been shopping at home. We want to thank them for that and to let them know that what they spend here will go back into the city in the form of infrastructure improvements. We did over $1 million in road paving in January and February, and we’ll continue to do this.”

The city will soon be on the receiving end of one of the first Rebuild Alabama projects funded by the recent gas tax increase. The city and Chambers County will fund $20,000 each with the state putting in $250,000. Combs Road, located off Fairfax Bypass on the west side of town, will be resurfaced in the project. It will access a new housing subdivision to be developed by Chris Clark. It will be on the right side of the road with a new commercial district going in on the left side.

Overall, the city will likely have more than $2 million in paving this year. Roads that have been resurfaced include 31st and 33rd streets in Shawmut, 48th Street which leads to EAMC-Lanier Hospital, and 65th Street. This year’s major projects include Cleveland Road and portions of Columbus Road and Hopewell Road.

“Over the last seven years, we have seen over $8 million in paving,” Riley said. “That’s the most ever for the city in that kind of time period.”

Riley said the cleanup of the Fairfax Mill site has been a slow, agonizing project to deal with but that it could have a good finish.

“We’ve had to test 130 pikes of debris, but only 20 of them had to be hauled from the site,” he said. “Everything else can be buried there.  We have drained the clear well and have moved some of the piles.”

The city has a $500,000 Brownfields grant that can be used in cleaning up the site. The long-term goal is for the site to be green space, a place where people can go walking and enjoy being outdoors in a residential area.

Riley said he’s had to deal with one major issue after another since first being elected mayor in 2012.

“My first term we had the mold remediation in the city hall complex,” he said. “Then, we had a $2.5 million renovation of the Sportsplex, then we built the new senior center, expanded the fitness center and did some interior painting at the Community Center. Last year, we had to put in a new PoolPak for the indoor pool. When we take on these projects, we find out there are some really talented people here like Mike Arrington, who did the ductwork at the Community Center.”

Riley said he’s especially pleased for the city to have good working relationships with the City of Lanett and the Chambers County Commission.

“We can accomplish so much more when we are working together than we can if we are apart,” he said.

The mayor said the city now has a good opportunity to do some long-term refinancing.

“It’s a good time to refinance the big bond we did in 2014,” he said. “When we do that, everything we have will be under 15 years at 2.5% or less. I never thought I’d see that.”

Riley said he was fortunate to have had council members who are cooperative and very good to work with.

“I think we have accomplished a lot over the past eight years,” he said.