Suits over land access now in three courts|[06/06/07]

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, June 6, 2007

A third lawsuit and a third court are part of the sudden burst of litigation between Warren County officials and 19 people who added 1,270 acres to their land holdings in Warren and Issaquena counties in 2002.

The landowners, who form Warren and Issaquena Counties Land Company, have asked the Warren County Chancery Court to declare them not only not in violation of Warren County’s subdivision ordinance, but to stop attempts by the board of supervisors to enforce it.

The case was filed May 26, following a separate action filed May 16 by the plaintiffs in U.S. District Court naming supervisors and others as defendants and seeking at least $6 million in damages.

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On May 31, supervisors filed a suit in Warren County Circuit Court seeking a declaratory judgment that the landowners were answerable both to the subdivision ordinance and the floodplain ordinance.

District 5 Supervisor Richard George, board president, has characterized the situation as the county governing board trying to enforce existing laws.

The landowners, however, say in their federal suit that the county board, its attorney, a surveyor and the county prosecutor conspired with another area landowner, John Lindigrin and Paw Paw Island Company, to deprive them of their rights. They allege 11 counts in total, including civil racketeering and waste of public money.

In the chancery court case, the landowners say that supervisors in 2006 joined a three-year pending lawsuit in that court between them and Paw Paw Island Land Company in which Paw Paw was seeking declaration of an easement for access and egress to its property in northwest Warren County off Mississippi 465, also known as Eagle Lake Road.

Although a judgment has not been rendered, testimony in that case ended in April without supervisors &#8220offering any evidence whatsoever regarding violation of said subdivision ordinance,” the landowners’ petition says. Because of that and for other reasons, the petition says supervisors should not be allowed to do so now.

The petition says further that the landowners are not subdividing and improving the property into lots for sale to the public, as in a normal development and because of that and the fact that all roads on the property are and will remain private property, the ordinance does not apply.

In their circuit court case, supervisors are seeking a declaration that the subdivision ordinance does apply as well as the floodplain ordinance. The former is designed to assure developers meet minimums for roads, drainage and other infrastructure before starting work on residential plats and requires that a master plan be submitted, inspected and approved by the county engineer. Under the floodplain ordinance, supervisors keep county property owners eligible for the National Flood Insurance Program by assuring that all new construction is above any expected flooding.

In addition to supervisors, individually and as a board, the federal case also identifies board attorney Paul Winfield, Warren County Prosecutor Richard Johnson, surveyor Joe Strickland as well as Lindigrin and Paw Paw Island Land Company as defendants.

The controversy was kindled when access to Paw Paw Island through a private road and locked gate was lost when the Warren and Issaquena Counties Land Company purchased the tract on which they were located from Anderson-Tully Company.

Identified as landowners in the Warren and Issaquena Counties firm are Gary K. Blakeny, Kenneth D. Blakeny, Ernest K. Blakeny, Rose C. Blakeny, Robert Daryl Ainsworth, Pam Haley, Keith Hawsey, Tommy L. Thrash, Josh L. Thrash, Mike Sutton, Michael R. McTurner, Donna M. McTurner, Ervin Ray, Fay Ray, Gary Ray, Hugh J. Parker, Cynthia B. Parker, Joey Havens and Mary Elrod.

They are represented in both cases in which they are plaintiffs by Lisa A. Reppeto of the Jackson firm Watkins, Ludlam, Winter & Stennis.

The county is represented by Ken Rector of Wheeless, Shappley, Bailess and Rector.