Hazlehurst judge will be at helm of suit over Kings Point Ferry hours|[08/09/2008]

Published 12:00 am Saturday, August 9, 2008

Long-standing legal issues between landowners on Kings Point Island and Warren County over ferry service hours appear to be revived.

Hazlehurst-based Chancery Court Judge Edward E. Patten Jr. was appointed special judge over the case Wednesday by order of the Mississippi Supreme Court. Vicksburg-based Chancellor Vicki Roach Barnes had recused herself from the proceedings in June. A hearing date in the case is forthcoming.

Issues center on the operating hours of the Kings Point Ferry, which takes vehicles across the Yazoo Diversion Canal in northwest Warren County.

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A court order issued in the 1990s mandated that the county operate the ferry for 15 hours daily. For a brief period early this summer, hours were cut to 12, due primarily to an illness of one of three U.S. Coast Guard-certified pilots on the road department staff. They have since been restored to 15 hours – 6:30 a.m. until 9:30 p.m.

Despite the availability of two pilots, supervisors said they did not wish to stretch the resources of such a specialized position.

Raymond May of M & M Property LP, plaintiffs in the suit, said the group filed suit because the original court order should be preserved.

“They just did it arbitrarily,” May said of the period of reduced hours. “You’re supposed to do what the court tells you to do.”

Hunting camps and tree farming are the dominant activities on the island, cut off from the rest of the county by the completion of the canal in 1903.

The suit coincides with renewed efforts by the county to end ferry service gradually. A week after last year’s general election, supervisors resolved to support the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers’ reopening of a study to build a 10-mile levee with a road atop it for vehicular access.

Cost estimates on the project were pegged at $8 million in 2001, when logistical plans were drafted. In 2005, supervisors purchased a new push boat and barge for $623,100 to keep the service going. Maintaining the ferry costs the county about $340,000 annually, with fuel costs likely to push the cost up another $25,000 for the upcoming year.

Time frames and other details of a second Corps study have not been determined.