Chancellor Barnes to decide if Paw Paw land is subdivision|[07/17/07]

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, July 17, 2007

Opening briefs were filed Monday in the chancery court case between Warren County and the 19 principals of Issaquena and Warren Counties Land Co., one of three pending lawsuits dealing with ownership and use of Paw Paw Road, leading to Paw Paw Island off Mississippi 465.

In the case, Chancellor Vicki Roach Barnes will decide whether improvements made on 20 parcels on about 1,300 acres of land the group owns on the island constitute a development subject to oversight by the county subdivision ordinance and flood plain ordinance.

Also covered in a written order expected in about 60 days will be ownership and maintenance of the road, on county maintenance lists since 1988 but still disputed by IWCL.

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Those forming the group have petitioned the court to stop Warren County supervisors from enforcing the subdivision ordinance as it relates to IWCL. Hunting lodges have been built on the property since the group formed in 2002. Property tax appraisals on the parcels total more than $523,540.

They also contend the lots are a private community and are not being subdivided for the purpose of selling them to the public. Hence, with their intention of keeping it private property, the subdivision ordinance does not apply.

Passed in 2004, as construction on the structures built at Paw Paw Island was in progress, the ordinance sets forth rules regarding property developments and what developers must do to meet minimum standards for roads, drainage and other infrastructure.

As for the flood plain ordinance, its enforcement is mandatory by counties so citizens can purchase federally subsidized flood insurance. Under its terms, the county must not allow any construction below known flood levels.

According to current maps approved by FEMA, the land between 465 and Paw Paw Island is in a Special Flood Hazard Area, defined by FEMA as an area subject to flooding by the &#82201 percent annual chance flood” (also known as a &#8220hundred-year flood”) in any given year.

IWCL also has a pending suit in federal court accusing county supervisors of an array of wrongdoing, including civil racketeering, because of what the group says was a conspiracy between the county and another hunting group, Paw Paw Island Land Company, as the latter sought an easement to access its own nearby property.

Supervisors are the plaintiffs in the Warren County Circuit Court case seeking a judgment that the landowners must obey the subdivision ordinance and the floodplain ordinance.

Currently, the gravel-and-dirt Paw Paw Road crosses over Mississippi River levees and connects 465 and the landowners’ parcels. It has been blocked off by a locked gate in the years since IWCL began building near the bank’s edge.

Landowners in the Warren and Issaquena Counties firm are Marty Elrod, Gary K. Blakeney, Kenneth D. Blakeney, Ernest K. Blakeney, Rose C. Blakeney, 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 and Joey Havens.

They are represented in the chancery and federal cases by Lisa A. Reppeto of the Jackson firm Watkins, Ludlam, Winter & Stennis.

Paw Paw Island Land Co. has retained Eugene Parker as legal counsel.

Paul Winfield is representing Warren County in the chancery court proceedings.