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March 18, 2003   Email to Friend 

VENEMAN: RURAL ALABAMA TO GET $12.5 MILLION FROM USDA
Jeff Helms
(334) 613-4212
March 18, 2003

Agriculture Secretary Ann M. Veneman, Jerry Newby, President, Alabama Farmers Federation (left), and Chuck Connor, Special Assistant to the President for Agriculture Trade (right) listen to questions from the members of the Alabama Farmers Federation during their annual Washington Legislative meeting. (Photo courtesy of USDA)
WASHINGTON-- Agriculture Secretary Ann M. Veneman announced Monday the approval of over $12.5 million in loan and grants to support local development of rural Alabama infrastructure, including community water and local telephone systems, assist communities with the purchase of local fire trucks and fund the expansion of a childcare facility. The funds are part of the ongoing effort by President Bush and USDA's Rural Development to stimulate local economies, promote business development and job creation, and support quality of life improvements for rural residents.

"These funds will assist several rural Alabama communities improve their infrastructure and offer a greater quality of life to those who will benefit from the improved community facilities," said Veneman.

Veneman made the economic development announcements during a visit with members of the Alabama Farmers Federation who are in Washington, D.C. this week for discussions with agricultural leaders.

The Birmingham News reported that Veneman also encouraged the Alabama farmers to continue research on how to use agriculture products as renewable sources of energy.

"Agriculture has a vested interest as a user and a producer of energy," she said.

According to the Birmingham News report, Alabama Power Co. has already experimented with switchgrass, a prairie grass that looks like hay, to burn in its Gadsden Steam Plant. The resource is renewable, provides a market for Alabama farmers who produce it and decreases the pollution emitted from the coal-fired plants.

Jimmy Parnell, a timber and cattle farmer from Chilton County, told the reporter he is encouraging Congress to offer tax credits for utility companies that invest in ways to burn wood chips along with coal. The normal thinning of a pine plantation would produce small and inferior trees that could be shredded and burned alongside coal, improving the health of the tree stand and supplementing the fuel source for the electricity producer.

"We have to think outside the box," Parnell said. "This could be environmentally friendly and give us some friends we don't normally have."

Finally, Veneman told Marshall County poultry producer Dan Smalley that the Bush administration is considering retaliation against Russia for its recent proposal to put tariffs and quotas on the chicken products it imports from the United States. "We haven't ruled out trade actions," Veneman said. "That is one of the most important markets for poultry."

Specific funding for rural development projects announced by Veneman included:

Henry County Water Authority -- $3,058,600 Water loan/grant combination ($1,802,600 loan and $1,256,000 grant). Funds will be used to connect two systems by adding one new 400-gallon per minute well, two new storage tanks and 147,000 feet of water mains. Henry County Water Authority serves approximately 3,000 customers.

New Hope Telephone Cooperative, New Hope, Ala. -- $850,000 guaranteed telephone loan from the Federal Financing Bank. The funds will be used to construct a new 8,300 square foot headquarters building and for renovation to the existing building to expand the engineering and construction departments.

Pine Belt Cellular, Inc., Arlington, Ala. -- $7,569,950 telephone loan/loan guarantee ($3,463,000 cost of money loan/$2,014,950 Rural Telephone Bank/$2,092,000 of guaranteed loan funds from the Federal Financing Bank). Funds will be used to finance the wireless system for 2,177 existing and 1,667 new subscribers in the Pine Belt's service area of Choctaw, Marengo, Perry, Dallas and Wilcox counties.

Town of Riverview (Escambia County, Ala.)-- $94,000 water loan/grant combination ($60,000 loan/$34,000 grant). Funds will be used to cover cost overruns incurred during the bidding process for the community's water project. USDA provided the community with a $1,427,00 loan/grant combination in 2001.

Marshall County Commission (Guntersville, Ala.) --$345,000 community facility loan. Funds will be used to purchase the Family Life Center from Victory Baptist Church and make needed alterations and improvements to facilitate a 100-student childcare center, doubling their current capacity. The childcare center will be operated on a nonprofit basis by Childcare Resources Network.

The Whole Backstage, Inc. (Marshall County, Ala.) -- $500,000 community facility loan. The Whole Backstage, a nonprofit, will use these funds to refurbish a historic school building in Guntersville, which serves as a community theatre.

Springfield Volunteer Fire Department (Greene County, Ala.) -- $82,500 community facility loan. The USDA funds will be used to purchase a 1998 pumper truck, replacing a 40-year old pumper. This equipment will help lower their ISO rating and increase the department's flow capacity. Part of the VFD's service area includes the Greene-Sumter Renewal Community, formerly designated as the Greene-Sumter Enterprise Community. Greene-Sumter is also a Champion Community.

West Chambers County Volunteer Rural Fire and Rescue District (Chambers County, Ala.) -- $48,000 community facility loan/grant combination ($31,200 loan/$16,800 grant). The USDA funds will be used to finance a pumper truck. Part of the Fire and Rescue District's service area is within the Chambers County Enterprise Community. This rural volunteer organization is part of a tri-county fire protection unit.

USDA Rural Development serves as the lead federal entity for rural economic and community development needs. It administers financial and technical assistance through a network of state Rural Development offices, its national office and private and public sector partners. Further information on these and other rural programs is available at a local USDA Rural Development office or by visiting USDA's web site at http://www.rurdev.usda.gov/.




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