Bayou balk shows turf still comes first

Published 12:00 am Monday, September 15, 2008

“Dysfunctional” is a word often applied to families who, in less-pretentious terms, just can’t get their act together.

As many have observed, it also applies to the continuing absence of a cooperative spirit between elected officials in the city of Vicksburg and members of the Warren County Board of Supervisors.

There’s no intent here to place blame — just to point out what continues to be obvious: A majority on the county board, led by District 5 Supervisor Richard George, continues to find it preferable to think of the city as some distant entity, with its own challenges and responsibilities. That’s fine. There are distinct differences in the powers and duties of county officials as opposed to municipal officials.

Email newsletter signup

Sign up for The Vicksburg Post's free newsletters

Check which newsletters you would like to receive
  • Vicksburg News: Sent daily at 5 am
  • Vicksburg Sports: Sent daily at 10 am
  • Vicksburg Living: Sent on 15th of each month

But it’s also true that as a people with a common geography, the larger community sinks or swims as a whole.

The latest evidence of the separatist approach was described in a story reported last week by staff writer Danny Barrett Jr. District 3 Supervisor Charles Selmon, whose consituency is 100 percent inside Vicksburg’s corporate limits, pushed for and won a pledge of $3.9 million from federal sources for the largest-ever cleaning and improvement project along the paths of the three bayous that drain most of the city.

Not so fast, said George. For one thing, this wouldn’t be an easy project, what with all the easements needed to cross private property to get to Glass, Stouts and Hatcher bayous and the required environmental studies and so forth. For another, there’s the question of who would pay to keep the creeks cleared and maintained once such a giant project was completed.

One of the most admirable traits George brings to the table of local government is his tight-fistedness. He’s that rare public official who, when given a grant for a new building or park or swimming pool, also stops to calculate the ongoing operational costs.

‘A majority on the county board, led by District 5 Supervisor Richard George, continues to find it preferable to think of the city as some distant entity, with its own challenges and responsibilities.’

But there’s another dimension here — and it’s the overall community benefit to be received from a comprehensive project centered on those three bayous.

It shouldn’t pass without notice that along much of the water’s pathways to the river, at least through more affluent areas, the creeks have already been diverted into giant culverts. It’s only in areas along Crawford Street, through Marcus Bottom, south of Bowmar school and west of City Park that stench persists because people use the creekbeds as dumps and, sometimes, as toilets. People who live in such areas are most often poor, their homes having little value. Crime is more common there, too.

Think what would happen if the debris and vegetation were removed and the flow diverted underground. In areas now plagued by the existence of the creeks, quality of life would rise and so would taxable property values. The expense of fighting crime might even fall.

It really shouldn’t matter how much paperwork it takes to get such a project going. That’s what contractors would be paid to do, anyway.

It shouldn’t matter whether the grant was sought by the city or county or will be administered by the city or the county.

All that should matter is whether there is a total benefit to be achieved in return for very little local expense.

When it comes to drainage work that could end decades of hit-or-miss approaches, raise the standard of living and fatten the coffers of local government — city and county — it seems that any notion of whether the city or county is the funding conduit would be way down any list of factors to weigh.

Here, however, turf comes first. The overall good to be gained by the “family” who, in fact, pay city, county and federal taxes equally, takes a back seat.

That’s the definition of “dysfunctional.”