Supes balk at red tape coming with bayou grant

Published 12:00 am Friday, September 12, 2008

The cost and who will perform maintenance if three narrow bayous in Vicksburg are cleared in a major project might block acceptance of a Katrina-related grant — much to the displeasure of the two supervisors who spearheaded the application.

In April, the City of Vicksburg and Warren County were awarded nearly 10 percent of a $41 million Community Development Block Grant spread almost statewide and awarded by Congress to repair pubic infrastructure damaged by the devastating 2005 hurricane.

Vicksburg requested $1.3 million to build a new fire station at the city’s airport, which will be combined with a terminal building. The eligibility rationale was that the building used as a fire station floods after heavy rains.

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For Warren County, District 3 Supervisor Charles Selmon and District 2 Supervisor William Banks led the way for a nearly $4 million allocation to clear Glass, Stouts and Hatcher bayous of vegetation and often privately generated rubbish and debris.

The bayous wind their way through Vicksburg, draining most of the city. The eligibility rationale was to improve stormwater runoff.

The amount of money available, Selmon said Thursday, outweighs any challenges in terms of obtaining easements to do the work and continuing maintenance costs once the project is finished. Stouts runs behind homes near the center of Selmon’s city-based district, an area contributing a large part of the 60 percent of overall property tax revenue collected by the county.

“As a rule of thumb, since we applied for it, we should be the one to maintain the project,” Selmon said, acknowledging no specific research into long-term maintenance took place in advance of the application. “I don’t know how you turn down $3.9 million.”

District 5 Supervisor Richard George, board president, said the difficulty of spending the money and resulting costs must be considered. Since the initial approval, county engineers and road department officials have shied away from widening canal walls and seeking legal permission to enter all the private property involved in reaching the bayous.

Environmental data awaited by local officials from the Mississippi Development Authority is now on hold, pending more talks set next week between the county and the state agency’s Disaster Recovery Division on the project’s scope.

“It’s enough that it would make anyone back away from it,” George said, adding since all three bayous are inside the city limits, it “would be reasonable” if municipal crews accepted the job of clearing them occasionally, something neither entity has done in the past because of easements needed. George often points out that the county treasury pays over a part of its road fund collections to keep a division of responsibilities — with the city taking care of municipal matters and the county focusing efforts outside the city limits.

Banks agreed with George, adding next spring’s municipal elections should be motivation enough for the city to take over administration of the bayou funds. Supervisors have said $250,000 from the county’s gaming fund will match the grant.

Mayor Laurence Leyens said the city will move ahead with its $1.3 million portion of the grant with a match of 50 percent by the city.

The city wouldn’t attend any meeting involving the bayou project, Leyens added, to avoid city involvement “running just ad hoc all through the woods.”

Thirty-nine counties and municipalities in the state were eligible for the disaster recovery funds, part of a larger $5.48 billion Katrina recovery package awarded to Mississippi from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development.