County settles suit over ferry’s hours|$4,400 to be paid in legal fees

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, October 7, 2008

Warren County will pay $4,415.58 in legal fees to a Greenville law firm as part of a settlement over operating hours of the Kings Point Ferry.

An agreement was reached between the county and Henderson Dantone, P.A., representing M&M Property, LP just before the two sides were to enter court proceedings in Hazlehurst, Board Attorney Paul Winfield said.

Under a 1997 court order, hours on the vessel that takes vehicles to the island across the Yazoo Diversion Canal were set at 15 hours. Principals in the land-owning group filed suit in August after the county reduced hours to 12 following an illness of one of three U.S. Coast Guard-certified pilots on the road department staff. Despite a return to 6:30 a.m. to 9:30 p.m. service, principals in the land group asked the court to find county supervisors in contempt for cutting the hours.

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The case was set for the Hazlehurst-based 15th Chancery District because Vicksburg-based Chancellor Vicki Roach Barnes recused herself.

Hunting and tree farming have dominated activity in recent years on the island, which is cut off from the mainland of Warren County by the waterway dug in 1903. High stages on the Mississippi River flood the acreage occasionally.

A plan was drafted for a 10-mile levee with a road atop it for vehicular access, eliminating the ferry. Supervisors last year gave a green light to U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, though no final draft is expected for some time. Costs of the project were estimated at $8 million when a study was done in 2001.

The current ferry barge and push boat cost more than $600,000 when purchased in 2005. Annual maintenance of the vessel for this fiscal year will run about $365,000, including fuel, according to figures in this year’s budget.

On the agenda

On Monday, the Board of Supervisors:

• Set a public hearing for Nov. 3 to hear comments on the adoption of a new flood plain ordinance.

Warren County Emergency Management Director Gwen Coleman told supervisors the move is necessary to align local laws with state flood plain management regulations. It coincides with digital versions of new Warren County floodplain maps the board also approved Monday. 

Drafts of a working document put together by the state, along with FEMA and the Association of Floodplain Managers of Mississippi, show enforcement points to be added to the local plan, including rights of entry and inspection of properties. Though the responsibilities fall to individual county-level floodplain managers in the state version, Coleman said those duties would trickle down only to government entities with building inspectors, which Warren County does not employ. 

Supervisors also OK’d four emergency support functions as part of a separate, continuing effort to update the county’s comprehensive emergency management plan.

The functions included fire fighting, mass care, housing and human services, and public safety and security. Meetings with city officials and others will convene next week to discuss public works and engineering and search and rescue functions. Once other details like backup facilities for the city and county to operate in the event of a natural disaster or industrial accident are decided, the plan will be adopted and reviewed by the county annually and by the state every five years.

• Heard no public comments following hearings concerning disaster grant applications.

One hearing concerned the resurfacing and reconstruction of parts of LeTourneau Road, heavily damaged by last spring’s Mississippi River flooding. Supervisors are applying for $1.5 million available from the Katrina Supplemental Community Development Block Grant program to finance the repairs.

No specific grant program was set up for areas affected by the floods. Available monies to counties in the federally declared disaster area from the Katrina block grant pool total $340 million. Up to $2 million in federal money from the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Natural Resource Conservation Service might flow the county’s way to address roadside erosion left behind by the floods.

To speed up some of the project, the county agreed to pay up to $20,000 to move a water line owned by the Yokena-Jeff Davis Water District that could obstruct work crews.

The second hearing dealt with a similar, non-disaster related grant for which Union Corrugating applied four years ago. Jobs created exceeded those predicted, officials said.

Also, supervisors awarded a contract to ABMB Engineers Inc. in advance of a pending grant award to finance the replacement of the E.W. Haining Road bridge leading to the Port of Vicksburg.

Work on the multimillion dollar effort is contingent on a $10 million grant application being executed, said John Randazzo of Jimmy G. Gouras Urban Planning Consultants Inc.

• Approved invoices totaling $161,904.74 for County Engineer John McKee and $5,425 for Board Attorney Paul Winfield.

• Reappointed James Valentine to the Culkin Water District board of directors and Brenda Hawkins to the Vicksburg Warren County Library advisory board.

• Declared Oct. 18 as Redwood, Culkin and Jett Graduate Reunion Day and passed a resolution in appreciation of all graduates of the three Warren County schools that operated from 1916 to 1965.