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Sawmill flourishing on industrial access

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They're making it ugly, just like they're supposed to.

Truckers coming in with logs and heading out with wood chips and lumber have worn the new off the Rex Lumber Brookhaven Access Road, and what eight months ago was fine white concrete is now gray and blackened, stained deep by crushed wood and rubber skids and a thousand drips of oil that plentiful summer rains have not washed off. The sawmill's million-dollar driveway just gets nastier every day.

The management couldn't be happier.

"We were able, about three months ago, to get in 222 loads of logs in one day - almost double what the previous record was," said Rex Lumber Brookhaven General Manager Doug Boykin. "The design is working great, and it's a lot less dangerous for our folks and for the public."

Less than a year after it was built, the Rex Lumber Brookhaven Access Road is allowing the mill to operate at its highest-ever capacity, handling an average of 150 heavy trucks daily with no signs of failure in the 8.5-inch concrete anywhere along its half-mile length. The road, designed by WGK, Inc. at the request of the City of Brookhaven and paid for with state and federal economic development grants totaling $1.26 million, supports approximately 6,300 tons each day.

"We average about 80-85 loads of logs per day, 30 waste trucks and about 15 or 20 lumber trucks," Boykin said. "And that doesn't count the trucks going to (Great Southern Wood Preserving), who also use this road."

Such numbers were never possible in the old days, when the mill was called Columbus Lumber and the main access road was an asphalt city street called Beehan Drive. Columbus Lumber went bankrupt in 2009 and took about 100 needed jobs with it. Florida-based Rex Lumber bought the property six weeks later and planned to upgrade the mill's technology and capabilities with a $10 million investment.

By that time, Beehan Road was beat to pieces, and the City of Brookhaven fired up its economic development team to help provide infrastructure to the plant and get those 100 jobs back. The city and Lincoln County offered up $144,000 each to get things started and secured funding from the Mississippi Development Authority and the federal Economic Development Administration.

"(The road) brought back an industry that had failed during the recession and put our people back to work when there was nothing else for them to do in this area," said Brookhaven Ward Six Alderman David Phillips. "And we won't have to repair it six months from now, so we're very excited about that. A concrete road is the way to go when you're dealing with industries."

Construction crews broke up the existing asphalt road with a giant tiller-like machine and added concrete to the mixture to form a stabilized road bed, adding a further 8.5 inches of concrete on top of that base to form the road.

While Beehan Drive was cratered and narrow, the new concrete access road keeps loaded trucks moving along its wide, striped base, with concrete turnouts at multiple mill entries and a pair of Avery Weigh-Tronix scales to quickly weigh the trucks. The concrete portion also extends onto another road for approximately 900 feet, strengthening the loop mill trucks circle to keep traffic moving. Reinforced concrete drain pipes and rip-rap keep the ditches from filling up.

"There's nothing high-tech or radical about holding up 84,000-pound trucks - the design is straight-forward and very functional," said Mike McKenzie, a WGK principal and Brookhaven city engineer. "It's always great to be involved in a project for Brookhaven that helps create economic activity, no matter what the project is."