Ladiga Trail, blight and flooding on the table as Anniston Council ponders $13 million windfall

·3 min read

May 28—Councilwoman Millie Harris doesn't know exactly how the Anniston City Council will spend the roughly $13 million it's set to get from the American Rescue Act, but she knows the trees in the median of Quintard Avenue aren't going to live forever.

"Our trees are magnificent, but only have a lifespan of about 130 years," Harris wrote in an electronic message to The Star. "I would like to have funds set aside for their replacement as they are removed."

Replacement for the Quintard oaks is just one of the ideas members of the council will discuss as they sit down, as early as next week, to work out how they'll spend the city's windfall from the American Rescue Plan Act, the latest round of pandemic-related aid from the federal government.

The Model City is expecting $13 million from the $1.9 trillion federal spending plan — far more than any other local city expects to get. So far, council members' wish lists seem to include a wide range of items, from the very specific — replacing aging trees — to citywide concerns.

"Infrastructure, infrastructure, infrastructure," said Councilwoman Ciara Smith.

Smith said she wants some of the money used to fix blight, particularly on the west side of town. She'd like to see long-empty and unused houses and other buildings torn down. She said she'd also like to see some money spent on upkeep for empty lots that have been hazards, and for restoration of downtown sites.

She said she's still not sure how much of the money should go to completion of the Ladiga Trail, the bike path that stretches from Anniston to the Georgia line, though she expects that will be a significant topic of discussion.

"I think the council's universal in believing that we don't want to let it linger another 10 years," Councilman Jay Jenkins said of the bike trail. Currently, the path of the Ladiga takes it into Anniston city limits, but city officials have struggled for years to acquire and pave the last bits of the former railway that are needed to extend the trail to the city's downtown — where, ideally, tourists could board an Amtrak train with their bikes after some time on the trail.

Council members also have some less-visible infrastructure in mind. Jenkins, Smith and Councilman D.D. Roberts, in interviews this week, all mentioned the idea of spending at least some of the money to correct drainage problems that lead to flooding in various parts of the city.

Roberts said flooding and better lighting were two of the problems Ward 2 residents brought up repeatedly during last year's city election. He said he's still unsure whether the Rescue Act money could be used for streetlights.

"I don't think we're at the point where we're going to start talking about the specifics," Roberts said.

Harris does have some specifics in mind. There are the Quintard trees, which she said are likely nearing the end of their lives. There's the Anniston Museum of Natural History, she said, which lost about $200,000 in revenue from visitors during the pandemic. And she mentioned repaving of streets, something that other council members also mentioned.

The council in recent weeks has talked about what it will take to find or build a new city hall to replace the Gurnee Avenue building that was once home to city offices. That building was torn down to make way for the new federal courthouse now under construction, and city government now operates in leased space in the Anniston Star building on McClellan Boulevard.

It's unclear how much a new city hall would cost, though Jenkins said he doesn't expect that project to wind up in the city's overall proposal for the Rescue Act money.

"We've been in conversations about a bond issue for City Hall — and whether we should add Ladiga Trail to that," he said.

Capitol & statewide reporter Tim Lockette: 256-294-4193. On Twitter @TLockette_Star.

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