City of Vicksburg, Warren County move to eminent domain to get land for port

Published 6:00 pm Friday, March 18, 2022

The city of Vicksburg and Warren County have started eminent domain proceedings in Warren County Court to acquire 20 properties from six property owners for the proposed South Port.

Attorneys for the Butler Snow law firm, which represents the city and county in the eminent domain proceedings, filed the 20 lawsuits — one for each parcel — on Feb. 18, according to court records.

The eminent domain suits are the latest chapter in local officials’ plans to build an inland port on a site off U.S. 61 South located along the Mississippi River, south of Entergy’s Baxter Wilson power plant and the mouth of Hennessey’s Bayou.

Sign up for The Vicksburg Post's free newsletter

Receive daily headlines and obituaries

Local officials want to acquire 28 parcels of land in that area totaling approximately 1,034 acres and totaling more than $830,000 in appraised value according to county tax records.

The Board of Mayor and Aldermen and the Warren County Board of Supervisors in December passed a joint resolution to allow the boards, if necessary, to acquire property for the proposed new port through eminent domain, which allows the city and county to go to court to get the property.

Pablo Diaz, president and CEO of the Vicksburg Warren Economic Development Partnership, issued a joint statement on behalf of the Partnership, city of Vicksburg and Warren County.

“The City of Vicksburg and Warren County, acting together, have initiated eminent domain proceedings to purchase lands necessary for the creation of a public port complex,” according to the statement. “As has been discussed and studied at great length, our existing port has been at maximum capacity for some time and our region desperately needs additional inland port infrastructure.

“This project will meet that public need and will entail the construction of a new public port, a levee and other flood control measures to ensure the viability of that port. The new port will also provide benefits to the surrounding areas that have suffered from the effects of floodwaters in recent years.”

According to the statement, the port project will also allow for needed rail line extensions, access roads and other necessary infrastructure for the development of the public port complex.

“We have successfully contracted for the purchase of most of the property required for the public port project,” the statement read.

The joint statement added that good faith efforts have been made to negotiate with the remaining landowners in the area for the purchase of their property at fair market value but to no avail.

“These eminent domain proceedings, while not entered into lightly, were the last resort to acquire the necessary property at fair market value to ensure that this important project comes to fruition for the benefit of the citizens of Vicksburg and Warren County,” the statement continued.

“The Mississippi River has long been the lifeblood of this city, county and state. The city of Vicksburg and Warren County stand ready to invest in the infrastructure of a new public port complex to ensure that our people are well-positioned to take advantage of the opportunities the river affords them, and to guarantee that Vicksburg and Warren County remain at the forefront of river-based transportation and commerce well into the future.”

Diaz said in a March 4 story in The Post that the Partnership had eight parcels of land under contract for the site. Both the city of Vicksburg and the Warren County Board of Supervisors recently voted to transfer $1 million to the Port Commission for the purpose of land acquisition for the new port site, for a total of $2 million.

According to one of the complaints on file, local officials “have determined there is a public need for, and the public convenience and necessity require, the construction of the port project to provide a public port for transportation and commercial activity and economic benefits to the area.

“In addition, the levee and flood control components of the port project will provide flood control benefits to affected and surrounding areas.”

The complaint adds that a viable port will require the levee and flood control aspects of the port project, “as well as access roads, sewer and water infrastructure rail extension and adequate lands necessary for industrial activity inherent to the port’s operation.”

City and economic development officials have been discussing a new port for Vicksburg for the past three years, and have invested money in marketing and feasibility studies for the project.

The Board of Mayor and Aldermen in June approved a $49,000 agreement with Neel-Schaffer Engineers to help the city get a $25 million U.S. Department of Transportation Rebuilding American Infrastructure with Sustainability and Equity, or RAISE, grant to help build the port. However, they were not selected for the grant.

The Port of Vicksburg is the 15th-largest inland port in the country based on millions of tons, according to U.S. Army Corps of Engineers data. According to the Partnership, the port supports 21 industries that employ 4,000 people.

In July 2020, Seabury Marine LLC, a company hired by the Board of Mayor and Aldermen, published a Port of Vicksburg Market Analysis that gave a snapshot of what markets and businesses could be attracted by expanded port operations.

The report showed that the expansion of services in Vicksburg, whether through expansion at the current port or construction of a new port working in combination with existing facilities, has the potential to bring in millions of dollars in new investment and create hundreds of new jobs.

About John Surratt

John Surratt is a graduate of Louisiana State University with a degree in general studies. He has worked as an editor, reporter and photographer for newspapers in Louisiana, Mississippi and Alabama. He has been a member of The Vicksburg Post staff since 2011 and covers city government. He and his wife attend St. Paul Catholic Church and he is a member of the Port City Kiwanis Club.

email author More by John