County moves bayou money to Port of Vicksburg

Published 10:20 am Wednesday, March 19, 2014

A chunk of money from the drawn-out effort by Warren County to clear city bayous of debris might move to a separate project to shore up the foundation below Haining Road at the Port of Vicksburg.

The fifth phase of an effort that since 2008 has involved shoring up earthen canal walls along Glass and Stouts bayous was put on hold this month after not enough landowners along Hatcher Bayou in Greenbriar subdivision agreed to sign over pieces of land without the county resorting to court action. The eminent domain option had begun by late February when officials, led by that area’s supervisor, Richard George, decided to pull the plug on the unique endeavor.

Instead, an amount not thought to exceed $500,000 will be diverted to the area below the port’s main access road, where erosion is a constant issue.

“It would be a good thing to consider transferring that,” County Engineer John McKee told county supervisors before a unanimous vote to do so. “It was recommended by the county administrator that we submit an estimate and a request for that project. We’d take that money in phase five and put together an estimate for that road, which would include slide repair, drainage improvements and slope repairs.”

The Warren County Port Commission, though not involved in the bayou project at any point, was expected to endorse the decision.

George moved to redirect the funds, which must be approved by the Mississippi Development Authority, and appealed for more talks with the City of Vicksburg, which maintains the road itself and Industrial Drive near the port, to take the lead more often when it comes to basic maintenance.

“We’ve been lucky (with the port roads),” George said. “We’ve had grant money available. But, we’ve had slide problems before. Sooner or later, someone’s gonna wake up and ask the question, ‘What are you folks doing about maintenance?’ We don’t have a good answer.”

In 2012, the county matched a $1.5 million federal highway grant to rebuild the ridge on which Industrial Drive. The low-lying area below the road had sat in flood water for weeks during the Mississippi River’s historic rise the previous year, then several layers of soil disappeared once water receded. Contract crews took about four months to complete the work. The city takes care of routine mowing on public rights of way there and along Haining, though county officials have long said it doesn’t occur often enough. An attorney general’s opinion issued in the early 2000s confirmed it’s the city’s responsibility to maintain both roads.

The bayou work had been financed by a $3.9 million Katrina-related disaster grant the county landed in 2008. Phases along Glass Bayou were completed in 2010-11. In 2012, the Mississippi Development Authority pulled $1.5 million from the project when a phase along Stouts Bayou stalled for a time when too few homeowners on Lane Street and near Glenwood Circle wanted to donate land. None of the money in the grant was specified for land acquisition, which complicated the project from the start.

Work that took place along Glass and Stouts involved placing riprap along the sides of ditches.

On the agenda

Meeting Monday the Warren County Board of Supervisors:

• In split votes, appointed a volunteer fireman and a retired Corps of Engineers division chief to the Culkin Water District advisory board.

Trey Smith, a former assistant chief in the Culkin Volunteer Fire District, and Doug Kamien, a former manager of the Corps’ Vicksburg District’s planning and projects division, were named to fill vacancies on the five-member water board. Votes on each were 3-2.

Superviors Richard George and William Banks voted no both times, citing no one on the board had contacted James Valentine or Ed McKnight, the outgoing members, of the board’s intention to appoint replacements on Monday.

Smith had run for District 2 supervisor in 2011. Kamien is serving as interim executive director of the Vicksburg Warren County Chamber of Commerce.

• Voted following a closed session to place Fire Coordinator Jerry Briggs under the purview of County Administrator John Smith for the purposes of day-to-day operations matters.

The position is still a will-and-pleasure position in terms of hiring and firing, District 5 Supervisor Richard George said. The move came after the third such session with Briggs in which the board closed the meeting using the “personnel matter” exception in Mississippi Open Meetings law.

• Approved a $5,000 check to Collins & Null Appraisals, PLLC to retain the Jackson-based firm to be expert witnesses in a lawsuit involving Ameristar Casino.

The casino is challenging its property tax liability for 2013 in a case that goes to trial July 8.

• Approved a $25,351.01 check to the state treasury to cover overpayments from the Mississippi Department of Transportation and the Mississippi Emergency Management Agency during Hurricane Katrina in 2005.

The amounts were paid to handle debris cleanup along state rights-of-way and state aid routes.

• Accepted for information the chancery clerk’s report on homestead exemption appliations. The report showed 211 for February.

Supervisors also heard an update on 371 disallowances of homestead exemptions for 2014. The bulk of them, 281, were rejected for inconsistencies with income tax information.