Kings Point trial date to be set on Sept. 2|[08/15/2008]

Published 12:00 am Friday, August 15, 2008

A trial date for renewed legal action by Kings Point landowners against Warren County will be set during a Sept. 2 pretrial conference.

Chancellor Edward Patten Jr. will hear attorneys for both sides at the session in the district’s Hazlehurst courtroom, Court Administrator Bethany V. Lewis said.

Patten was named special judge in the case Aug. 6 by the Mississippi Supreme Court. Vicksburg-based Chancellor Vicki Roach Barnes recused herself from the case in June.

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Issues center on the operating hours of the Kings Point Ferry, which takes vehicles across the Yazoo Diversion Canal in northwest Warren County. The basis of the case has its roots in previous legal action filed in 1997.

Plaintiffs in the case, M&M Property LP, filed suit against the county with about a dozen other hunting and landowner groups over how long the ferry should operate. The matter was passed to Brandon-based Chancery Judge Thomas L. Zebert, who mandated the county operate the ferry 15 hours daily. Further action in the case was dismissed for staleness in 2002.

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.

However, the matter was rekindled in June when M&M asked the court system to find county supervisors in contempt for changing the hours.

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.

Supervisors authorized the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers’ study to build a 10-mile levee with a road atop it for vehicular access and eliminate the need for a ferry. Costs of such a project were estimated at $8 million when a draft associated with a previous study was released in 2001.

The current ferry barge and push boat cost more than $600,000 when purchased by the county in 2005. Annual maintenance of the vessel cost $340,000 last year, with fuel costs likely to increase that figure an additional $25,000. Details of a second Corps study have not been determined.