After rough debate, Miss. House OKs development in state parks

Published 7:42 pm Friday, February 9, 2007

Wal-Mart in the woods? Burger King by the lake?

Those were some of the scenarios opponents raised Thursday as the Mississippi House debated a bill that would allow some private commercial or residential development in state parks.

The bill passed 84-34, but only after a contentious debate.

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It was held for more consideration and could come up for more House discussion by the end of the week.

“Don’t fool yourself. This is not anything about improving the state parks for the people of Mississippi,” said Rep. Robert Johnson, D-Natchez.

Johnson warned that poor folks who simply want to drop a hook in a fishing hole at state parks could end up being excluded from the public property.

Rep. Eric Robinson, R-Quitman, said cabins and other facilities at state parks are in shabby shape because the Legislature has failed to put enough money into them over the past several years. He said allowing some private development could bring in revenue to make improvements.

“I wonder if there’s any hypocrites in this room,” Robinson said, getting hoots and hollers from several on the House floor.

The bill says that any proposed developments would have to get past several layers of approval, including from the state Legislature.

Louie Miller, lobbyist for the Sierra Club, said he opposes the bill — but he praised the House for putting in the provision that requires legislative approval for projects, in case the bill becomes law.

“We’ve tried private prisons, private this, private that,” Miller said after the House vote. “The bottom line is, the state can do a better job” of running parks.

Rep. Jim Barnett, R-Brookhaven, said some of Mississippi’s state parks have fallen into a sad state of disrepair. He said at the Holmes County state park a few years ago, if a man needed to use the restroom, he could go “number one.”

“If you needed to do ‘number two,’ you reached up on the wall and pulled the commode seat off the nail,” Barnett said, prompting looks of disgust from a few in the House chamber.

The bill is House Bill 1492.