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Army National Guard volunteers to knock down abandoned houses

By By Sheila Blackmon/The Meridian Star
Oct. 1, 2001
City leaders may have found a way to save up to $70,000 on demolishing abandoned houses, with the Army National Guard's 150th Combat Engineer Battalion's offer to knock the houses down for free.
Don Farrar, Meridian community development director, said city leaders are considering the option but haven't worked out details. They're not sure how many of the 38 houses on the demolition list the Army National Guard might be asked to demolish, but it would be only houses determined not to contain asbestos.
Ward 5 Councilman Bobby Smith said Maj. Jerry Bratu called him about the proposed demolition. Bratu is battalion executive officer for the 150th Combat Engineer Battalion of the Army National Guard in Meridian.
The proposal is that the 150th Combat Engineer Battalion demolish the houses and pile the debris. City leaders would need someone to haul the debris away, possibly to the Lauderdale County Training Facility on Sandflat Road. There, it could be used to fill in holes or county and city firefighters could burn it in training exercises.
Smith said the Lauderdale County Board of Supervisors is considering providing crews to haul the debris away.
City crews, he said, would then smooth the lots where the houses stood, cap sewer lines and plant grass to stop erosion. They'll put the lots on the city tax rolls, and if the owners don't pay their taxes, the lots could be donated to Habitat for Humanity, he said.
There is $40,000 in the 2002 budget for demolition, $20,000 less than the Community Development Department requested.
Bratu said the battalion's volunteering could help both the battalion and the community.
All the units are trying to do some community projects, he said. Many have been done in Union and elsewhere in the area. Bratu said the Army National Guard is considering additional community projects in several cities, including a possible project to help construct baseball fields.
If the city approves the guidelines submitted by the Army National Guard and approved by the State Adjutant General, Bratu said he has about 370 people scattered in seven locations who could come into Meridian on regular drill weekends and demolish the houses.
Sheila Blackmon is a staff writer for The Meridian Star. Call her at 693-1551, ext. 3275, or e-mail her at sblackmon@themeridianstar.com.

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