With final right-of-way acquisition on the Williamsville connector scheduled to begin in March after a formal resolution was signed with the state on Monday for a grant, Neshoba County supervisors were told there is no timeframe for the overall $80 million to $100 million four-lane road project that will give Weyerhaeuser access and lay the groundwork for future mill expansion.

The formal resolution was signed Monday to secure $2.6 million in state funding for right-of-way acquisition after Neshoba County showed immediate potential for the creation or expansion of a major industry.

The state grant was announced in July as Weyerhaeuser said it would spend $57 million to modernize its Philadelphia softwood lumber mill.

State Sen. C. Scott Bounds told supervisors that the $2.6 million would be used primarily for right-of-way acquisition and utility relocation. The state has a plan in place to pursue additional funding for the overall project, Bounds said.

Plant manager Stan Webb, Community Development Partnership President David Vowell, state Rep. Michael Ted Evans and Bounds were present as the Board of Supervisors voted unanimously for the resolution.

"Full speed ahead," Webb said, after the vote.

Chuck Mobley of the Mississippi Development Authority told supervisors that the $2.6 million was technically a grant to the city and county.

"This is one of the best programs MDA has," Mobley said. "Not only does it help the company but it helps the city, county and surrounding area to get better roads."

He said the funding could be utilized for different aspects of the project.

"This goes not just for right-of-way. It goes toward the whole project. All we want is the road," Mobley said.

Some right-of-way has already been purchased.

Bounds commended supervisors for their action.

"Y'all's action today shows your commitment to economic development," he said. "The $2.6 million you approved for this grant application today is just the beginning. We still have to pursue some other avenues for money. We think we have a solid plan in place to try to go after those monies. In today's dollars, this is about an $80 million project. This is the first step. It's fantastic that y'all are on board with this and we are going to continue to work in Jackson to find the rest of the funding."

The Mississippi Development Authority has agreed to direct $2.6 million to MDOT through Neshoba County.

The roadway, discussed for about 30 years, would connect from the four-lane at Williamsville to Mississippi 19 and eventually to Mississippi 16 east.

Plans have been drawn for a four-lane connector that would run just south of town near the Weyerhaeuser mill.

Mississippi 21 would also be relocated north from Fairview to Mississippi 16.

The $2.6 million comes from the Economic Development Highway Act, which promotes, attracts and secures industrial and other significant development in the state through the construction and/or improvement of highways in areas of the state which demonstrate actual and immediate potential for the creation or expansion of major industry or other significant development which is heavily dependent upon the use of and direct access to primary highways.

Weyerhaeuser's capital investment plan to install two continuous direct fired kilns and a new planer mill here was announced Monday, July 21 by Gov. Phil Bryant surrounded by city, county and state leaders at a ceremony at the mill.

Work on the modernization is expected to begin immediately, officials said. While no new jobs are being created, company officials said the modernization will maintain the company's 188 jobs.

To launch these projects, the company has been working with the Mississippi Development Authority, Community Development Partnership in Philadelphia, Sen. Giles Ward, Rep. Bounds and other state and local officials.

With the help and assistance of these groups and individuals, the investments will help Weyerhaeuser retain existing jobs, expand product-line offerings and improve competitiveness and long-term viability, company officials said.

Monte Simpson, Weyerhaeuser's Governmental and Community Relations Manager, said Weyerhaeuser chose to modernize the Philadelphia mill because of the competence displayed by Webb and his team.

Simpson said the modernization will make production "more efficient" and "more accurate."

Bryant told a crowd of about 100 dignitaries and Weyerhaeuser employees that the company could have gone somewhere else, but instead, chose to stay in Neshoba County.

"That family will have the opportunity to keep their job, have a home, send their kids to school and maybe, send their kids to college," Bryant said.

Neshoba County Board of Supervisors President Keith Lillis said Philadelphia and Neshoba County were fortunate that Weyerhaeuser chose to modernize here.

"This is going to be a win-win from the city to the shoppers who shop over there to Weyerhaeuser," Lillis said.

Weyerhaeuser's Philadelphia lumber mill is one of the longest-running manufacturing facilities in the company. The mill was purchased from DeWeese Lumber Company in 1967 and currently employs approximately 188 people.

The mill produces approximately 220 million board feet of Southern Yellow Pine two-inch dimension lumber, 2x4 through 2x12. Products are shipped to more than 140 customers in 30 states throughout the Midwest, Northeast and Southeast.

In Mississippi, Weyerhaeuser also operates lumber manufacturing in Bruce and Magnolia/McComb, a cellulose fiber facility in Columbus, a modified fibers facility in Columbus, real estate development in Columbus and Hattiesburg and a building material distribution center in Long Beach. Additionally, Weyerhaeuser substantiality manages more than 811,000 acres of timberland in 53 counties.