Headlines Cont. – 2/16/2007

Published 12:00 am Friday, February 16, 2007

The Panolian: INSIDE STORIES – February 16, 2007


Sardis leaders searching for new chief
By Jason C. Mattox

City leaders in Sardis could begin the process of hiring a new police chief next week, according to Mayor Alvis "Rusty" Dye.

Chief Mike Davis was recently hired by the Panola County Sheriff’s Department and expects to begin work at his new position March 1. He resigned his position in Sardis February 9.

"We don’t want to see Mike go," Dye said. "He has done a good job for the city, and it is hard to find a good police chief."

Sign up for our daily email newsletter

Get the latest news sent to your inbox

The mayor said the city’s aldermen could meet early next week to devise a plan to fill the vacancy.

"We know we will have to advertise for applications, and the process is not a quick one," he said. "The last time we looked for a chief, it took us more than three months."

Davis was hired weeks after Dye took office in 2005.

Dye said the city was looking at existing employees in the Police Department to serve as an interim chief, but did not release names of those being considered.

"Nobody likes having to go out and find a new leader for their police department," he said. "But we will do our best to find the right fit for the City of Sardis."

Juveniles arrested for armed robbery in Crenshaw
By Jason C. Mattox

Two juveniles have been charged with the armed robbery of a Crenshaw convenience store.

Elvis Jones, 14, and Damien Jones, 15, have been charged with robbing F and S Grocery on Highway 3, according to investigator Mark Whitten of the Panola County Sheriff’s Department.

Whitten said the incident took place around noon Saturday, February 10, when the suspects allegedly entered the store and robbed the clerk at gunpoint.

"All the money and the handgun used in the robbery were recovered," he said.

The juveniles will be charged as adults, Whitten explained.

"According to state statute, when a person age 13 or older commits a felony using a firearm, they certify themselves as adults," he said.

If convicted, the suspects face a minimum of three years and a maximum of life in prison.

In other sheriff’s department business:
Six men have been arrested and charged with armed robbery for their involvement in an incident on Carlisle Road in Courtland.
     Investigator Barry Thompson said Daniel Burns, Marlon Jackson, Earnest Jackson, Ronriguez Lewis, Rodriguez Lewis and Benny Jones have each been charged with conspiracy and armed robbery.
     "The incident took place at approximately 4 a.m. on February 4," he said. "The victims, all juveniles, reported that they were held at gunpoint and had their cash and cell phones stolen."
Three suspects have been arrested for two burglaries in the 4000 block of Mt. Olivet Road on January 11.
     Adam Lester, Marvin Williams and Travis Diggs have each been charged with burglary of a dwelling.
     "Some of the property has been recovered," Thompson said.
Como gas operator questioned about repair work
By John Howell Sr.
and David Howell

Como city officials met for about 45 minutes Tuesday, Feb. 13 to amend the municipal budget and to clarify contract details with certified gas operator Steve Burdette in a special called meeting. The meeting was set during the "first Tuesday" meeting last week when Mayor Azria Lewers told aldermen that he had questions about several bills Burdette submitted.

Burdette was hired last month when state officials put pressure on the town to have a certified gas operator on staff. Como purchases gas from the City of Senatobia and resales it within the municipality.

The budget amendment was necessary to fund raises recently approved for the mayor and aldermen and for Police Chief Cleve Gale, Mayor Lewers said. This issue had also been tabled last week after aldermen were unsure which budget line item the funds were being taken from and added to.

Burdette, a city of Senatobia Gas Department employee, was hired in December to work on Como’s municipal gas distribution system under contract. At the Tuesday night meeting, he defended several his initial billings to the city for work performed after hours and using parts that he had furnished.

The aldermen, mayor and city attorney Leigh Ann Darby questioned Burdette to clarify future policy regarding the parts and after-hours repairs. The city officials also instructed Burdette to compile a list of commonly needed parts that the city can purchase and hold in inventory for gas leak repairs and line maintenance.

Aldermen also instructed Burdette to accelerate training for Como municipal employee Phillip Nunnelly in gas line repairs and maintenance.

Other business conducted during the meeting:
The mayor and aldermen also met in executive session to discuss a disciplinary matter in the police department. Following the executive session, no action was taken, Como City Clerk Catrece Dandridge said.
Jennifer Jones appeared before the mayor and aldermen to inquire about office space rental in a city-owned day care facility on Church Street.
Local Lehman-Roberts plant receives award of excellence
By John Howell Sr.

Lehman-Roberts’ Plant Number 7 – the hot mix asphalt plant site west of Batesville city limits on what is known as the old Farrish Gravel Company site – was selected late last year for the National Asphalt Pavement Association’s (NAPA) Diamond Achievement Award for Excellence.

The commendation recognizes hot-mix asphalt production facilities that operate in an exemplary manner, according to a NAPA news release.

"Earning the Diamond Achievement Commendation serves as a signal to neighbors that an HMA facility is a good neighbor," said NAPA Chairman Jim Roberts.

The commendation is earned through a self assessment process that evaluates appearance, operations, environmental practices, safety, permitting, compliance and community relations. The evaluation is verified by local community members and a nationally-known independent assessment firm, according to the NAPA news release.

However, a visit to Plant Number 7 reveals that the news release accolades accompanying the Diamond Achievement Commendation significantly understate what goes on at the facility.

"Most people don’t realize what we do," Lehman-Roberts’ Mississippi Manager Jamie Sullivan said.

"They see it, but where it comes from, a lot of people don’t even have a clue," said plant superintendent Robert Reed.

It is the hot-mix asphalt, the aggregate paving material manufactured at Plant Number 7.

Where most people encounter hot-mix asphalt is when they drive along one lane of an interstate highway while road repair crews resurface the closed lane. The steaming, hot, black mixture the crews are spreading is 250 to 300 degrees.

"It’s kind of like standing on top of a big grill," Reed said. "In thick-soled shoes," he added.

That hot, black mixture originated at Plant Number 7. They produced approximately 186,000 tons of it last year, Sullivan said.

That’s enough asphalt to pave 150 to 160 miles, depending on a road’s width and thickness, said Joe Welch, Lehman-Roberts Chief Estimator.

Almost 25 percent of the plant’s production was sold to Panola County, Welch said, saving the county "$150,000 in haul costs alone in 2006."

Lehman-Roberts’ Plant Number 7 employs 25 full-time workers. Another 100 to 125 people, "95 percent local to Panola and surrounding counties," Welch said, "are supported by this plant and this operation."

These include haulers and small paving contractors.

But the plant’s local economic impact is not what the Diamond Achievement Commendation was intended to recognize. It is intended to recognize the facility itself, a facility that is "not your father’s asphalt plant," to adopt another version of a worn slogan.

The Lehman-Roberts Company was turned down in its initial proposal to build the plant nearby on Highway 35 South where its sister company, Memphis Stone and Gravel, has been located. Concern about emissions and appearance prompted residents of the area to object to its location there. Company officials then decided to build on the old site.

Lehman-Roberts had bought the old Farrish Gravel Company’s asphalt plant in 1982. They produced asphalt with the old plant until late 2004 when they shut down for the season and began new construction.

Two years later and some $6 million later, the new Lehman-Roberts plant is state-of-the-art. The aggregate components of asphalt are fed into hoppers that mix the components in proper amounts. Sitting in an elevated hexagonal-sided office that he likens to the bridge of a towboat, Mike Smith controls the amounts of rock-gravel-sand aggregate, recycled asphalt paving (RAP), limestone and oil with a touch-screen. Another screen records weights of trucks which receive the plant’s product; another gives him an overview through strategically placed TV cameras.

Formerly, most asphalt was manufactured in "batch" plants – facilities which prepared just enough product at one time to meet anticipated demand. Two cylinders that tower over the new Lehman-Roberts plant allow them now to be more flexible. The towers keep the finished asphalt hot enough to store for limited periods, allowing Lehman-Roberts to offer customers a more flexible schedule.

"It’s really pretty much an environmentally-friendly operation," said Sullivan, an engineer.

Ninety percent of the oil used in the asphalt manufacture comes to them as recycled from "when you changed oil at a service station," Reed added. The process of using the recycled oil saves an estimated 350,000 gallons of diesel fuel annually, Sullivan said.

Fifteen percent of the aggregate mix that is turned into asphalt comes from the RAP – the top inch-and-a-half milled off the surface of a highway before the new asphalt goes down.

The process uses and produces no carcinogens. "It’s really pretty much a natural product," Sullivan said of the asphalt.

The manufacturing plant is stringently monitored both by employees and representatives of the Mississippi Department of Environmental Quality during its summer peak production cycle for emissions, runoff and other environmental considerations, Sullivan said.

Lehman-Roberts "wants the plant to fit in the community, to be unobtrusive and to be a good neighbor," Welch said.

They have been so successful with the goal to be unobtrusive that few people other than near neighbors are aware of the new facility that has arisen in the hills along Farrish Gravel Road.


Copyright 2001-2007 by Batesville Newspapers, LLC.  All rights reserved
Reproduction in whole or in part without written permission  is prohibited.