Wicker visits Picayune

Published 5:45 pm Friday, January 18, 2008

City personnel met with Mississippi’s new senator, Roger Wicker, to address post Katrina concerns and what the senator can do to help.

With the resignation of Senator Trent Lott, Wicker was appointed by Gov. Haley Barbour to take the seat until a special election can be held to officially fill the position.

As he passed through Pearl River County to introduce himself, he stopped in Picayune to meet with city officials, where they addressed their concerns.

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Most concerns mentioned by city officials concerned sub-par road conditions, the growing need for the long anticipated widening of U.S. 11 and some failing waste water and water facilities the city took under receivership.

Nearly two and a half years after the storm Picayune is still recovering from road damage. City Manager Ed Pinero said most of the road damage was caused by heavy equipment used in cleanup efforts.

“We didn’t’ have the water but we certainly had the trees and heavy trucks after,” Pinero said.

That cleanup process has aged the roads as much as 25 years, council member Jerry Bounds said.

Some of the clean up effort damaged more than just roads, it also damaged city infrastructure such as water and sewer lines. That damage is just beginning to become evident, Mayor Greg Mitchell said.

Another transportation issue concerns reopening Ridge Road, which would allow an alternate route to Stennis Space center. Stennis employs about 20 percent of the Pearl River County’s population, said Glade Woods a board member with Partners of Pearl River County.

“We need to open up that transportation route,” Woods said.

There is about $800,000 available through Mississippi Department of Transportation, but that money is held up since MDOT states another study is needed before work can begin.

“We need a road, not another study,” Woods said.

Traffic backing up when trains come through the city is also a problem, said council member Leaverne Guy. His concern focuses on when trains switch tracks, cutting off most of the city’s population from the hospital. Sometimes those trains can block roads for up to 20 minutes, Pinero said.

Train activity and delays are expected to increase as rebuilding efforts in New Orleans ramp up. The number of freight runs are expected to increase as those efforts take place, Woods said.

Wicker said there is some federal money that could help build an overpass.

The widening of U.S. 11 has been a hot topic since the 1980’s but work to get it done was never conducted, council member Larry Watkins said. Just before Hurricane Katrina hit the Gulf Coast there was about $40 million set aside to purchase right of ways and conduct the work, Pinero said. That money was redirected to other areas to help with the recovery process, Watkins said.

A major complication the city has taken under its wing involves what used to be Dixie Utilities. The associated failing sewer and systems have reportedly cost the city about $300,000 but receives no property taxes from that certificated area, only school district taxes, Pinero said. Even though the city had nothing to do with the development or failure of the system the state mandated it take the system, and its problems, over, Pinero said. Money was promised from several agencies if the city took it over but have yet to receive any funds from any of the agencies, including FEMA, DEQ, USDA and Rural Development, Woods said.

“From all those entities came nothing,” Woods said.

“It’s something I want to work with y’all on,” Wicker said.

Wicker asked for the names of the individuals at each agency that promised funds to help fix the system. Woods said he would check his notes and get back to him with that list. Wicker said it would be a good idea to get all of those individuals in one room and meet with them face to face to find ways to remedy the situation. To properly fix all of Dixie Utilities would cost about $13 million, Pinero said.