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PEP Board Concerned Over Potential Loss of Southwest Chief Route

 

 

Railroad line maintenance costs are playing a major role in continued passenger service for Amtrak’s Southwest Chief which runs through southeast Colorado, connecting a number of small communities in New Mexico, Colorado and Kansas.

The economic impact to La Junta, Lamar, Garden City, Kansas and other communities was discussed by Prowers Economic Prosperity President Aaron Leiker during the board’s monthly meeting at Lamar Community College on Tuesday, July 3rd.  Leiker cited an article from The Hutchinson News, which stated the most recent Amtrak president is considering dropping a segment of passenger service on the Southwest Chief route, connecting Chicago to Las Angeles.

Various communities have contributed funds to a TIGER, Transportation Investment Generating Economic Recovery, grant for several years, intended to maintain the system of railroad track to provide higher safety levels for passengers than for freight trains which can travel at higher speeds. US Senators Bennett and Gardner were part of a group that expressed their concerns to the Amtrak official.  Leiker said, according to the article, one idea would be to transfer rail passengers to a bus, connecting them from Dodge City, KS to Albuquerque, NM should that portion of the route be discontinued.

Lawrence Brase, PEP Treasurer, briefed the board regarding Opportunity Zone boundaries created by county populations to be used by the IRS to determine tax deferral incentives. Brase said an area, north of Lamar from the Bent County line to Sand Creek in Kiowa County was excluded from the Opportunity zone and may hinder private financing for dairies in Prowers County, stating that these groups could have benefitted from the tax relief a zone would have provided.  SECED Executive Director, Stephanie Gonzales, said she requested that more areas be developed, but was told that the zones were approved at a federal level.  She stated later that she believed these zones, developed only several months ago, would not serve to stall or halt a dairy development plan that had been underway in the county for several years.  Gonzales said a final determination may not be forthcoming until late summer or the fall.  She told the board during Tuesday’s meeting, she would set up a conference call between board members and the zoning regulators.

Eric Depperschmidt led the board through current developments on potential business ventures. He said PEP is hosting a Town Hall Meeting at 6:30pm on Thursday, July 19th at LCC.  State Senator Larry Crowder and Representative Kimmi Lewis will provide an overview of the past legislative session on what’s on tap for the next one and field questions from the audience.

The PEP roundtable meetings are resuming with a briefing on local housing set for SECED offices on Monday, July 9th at 8am and an update on manufacturing will be held at Lamar Light and Power at 1:30pm on the 19th.

Depperschmidt said the hotel feasibility study, now completed, has been sent to board members for review. It suggests that Lamar could support a 60 bed hotel, given the economic climate of the county.  Depperschmidt said one party has shown interest in development, but PEP would like to have other potential groups look at the analysis.

Several projects are moving forward including one agriculturally based venture which is completing an incentive package while a manufacturing company is working on an efficiency study which will help them expand their operation. Depperschmidt said the Sage Brush Meadows nursing home feasibility study is on hold pending a decision from the Lamar City Council on the group’s sales tax referral for the November ballot.  The executive director said another manufacturing firm is considering Lamar for a site and either a land purchase or building rental at Sutrak in the industrial park are options.  Another project for a food processing company may purchase its needed land by August and will have its business plan and funding completed near the end of summer.  The next PEP meeting will be held on Tuesday, August 7th.

By Russ Baldwin

 

 

 

Filed Under: City of LamarConsumer IssuesCountyEconomyFeaturedPublic SafetyTourismTransportationUtilities

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