County: Regulations being enforced in dispute over access to land|[06/05/07]

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, June 5, 2007

In the wake of a federal suit accusing Warren County supervisors and others of abusing their powers in a dispute over access to land, the county has filed a separate action in state court indicating the board is just trying to enforce flood and subdivision regulations.

&#8220Are our ordinances supposed to be (followed by) everyone or not?” asked District 5 Supervisor Richard George, board president, after a closed-door discussion of the matter Monday. George termed the struggle as &#8220might versus right.”

The county’s action, filed May 31 in Warren County Circuit Court, seeks a declaratory judgment that Issaquena and Warren Counties Land Company LLC and its 19 owners are in violation of the county ordinance that requires developers submit residential development plats and have plans for roads, drainage and other infrastructure approved in advance by county inspectors.

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In the state court case, the complaint says the land company owners &#8220commenced and … continuously engaged in the development of said subdivision by building substantial dwelling places and other permanent improvements and amenities” in violation of the county’s subdivision and floodplain management ordinances.

The suit filed by Vicksburg law firms Wheeless, Shappley, Bailess & Rector and Winfield & Moran claims the land company &#8220has not complied with the provisions and requirements” with the subdivision ordinance, which requires obtaining approval from the county engineer before beginning construction, and with the floodplain management ordinance, which restricts developing land in hazardous flood zones.

In the federal court case filed May 18, the land company says supervisors, the board attorney, county prosecutor and a surveyor have engaged in all sorts of wrongdoing, including malicious prosecution, civil racketeering and conspiracy to deny the plaintiffs their constitutional rights.

Attorney Lisa Reppeto of Jackson law firm Watkins, Ludlum, Winter and Stennis, represents the plaintiffs in the federal suit and said she could not comment on the case the county has initiated.

&#8220I can’t say anything about it because I haven’t seen it,” she said.

The dispute dates to 2002 and centers on a gate and small strip of roadway off Mississippi 465. In essence, owners of Issaquena and Warren Counties Land Company say supervisors have abused their authority to favor John Lindigrin and Paw-Paw Island Land Company in a disagreement over the gate and road ownership.

Several issues have already been to court and remain pending or have been resolved through settlement.

In addition to damages, the federal complaint says the plaintiffs are also acting as &#8220private attorneys general” in trying to protect the public treasury from abuses by supervisors. Board actions &#8220had a significant cost to the taxpayers of Warren County (and) no potential benefits to its citizens,” the plaintiffs say in a statement.

&#8220These actions have violated our civil and constitutional rights and cost us thousands of dollars in unnecessary costs and legal fees, with no benefit to the citizens of Warren County,” the complaint says.