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County, city officials hope Washington trip will help in FEMA loan forgiveness

Board of Supervisors President J. Patrick Lee said on Monday that he believes the recent trip to Washington, D.C., by a number of county and Picayune city officials will help towards getting FEMA to forgive a $4.5 million Katrina loan to the county and City of Picayune. The trip was from Feb. 29 to March 2 and involved four supervisors and four members of the Picayune City Council.

County and city officials, defending the trips, said that prior trips had generated demonstrable income gained by the two cities, Picayune and Poplarville, and by the county. They said the public relations and lobbying trips were worth the effort.

County Administrator Adrain Lumpkin, Jr., said that a prior trip generated a $2 million earmark for the Anchor Lake-to-West Union road on the east side of Interstate 59 that will open up a landlocked piece of 16th section land for use by Pearl River County school system. Long-range plans call for eventually developing a school on the land.

However, Lee said that local officials on the most recent trip were told that “funding is tight” and there will not be any earmarks to speak of this year, or in the near future, because of tight federal budgetary restrictions.

“In the past, following storms, money advanced to government entities down here has been forgiven, and we urged our representatives to push for that again,” said Lee.

“We brought it to their attention, and in the past most all of those loans have been forgiven,” added Lee. “Now, all of a sudden, they (FEMA) want everyone to pay it back. We are working with our congressional delegation to try and work something out. If they don’t forgive the loans, at least we could work toward a repayment schedule that would be favorable to Pearl River County and Picayune.”

Lee also said that local officials urged Washington officials to put pressure on the Environmental Protection Agency which, county officials say is blocking construction of a proposed 900-acre lake at Millard that has been called Lake Troy after the supervisor who originated the idea, the late Troy Stockstill.

County officials who visited Washington last year said they had found out that the EPA, and not the Army Corps of Engineers, was blocking the project.

They said they planned to mount pressure on the agency, but nothing has happened so far.

Lee on Monday said that local officials, along with some officials in Washington, planned to talk to the EPA about the matter, but he said he did not know whether EPA would move on the requested permits, which are needed to continue the project.

Lee said that if the county and City of Picayune officials can get the FEMA loans forgiven, that will mean the trip to Washington was “well worth it.”

On other issues, Lee said that he plans to meet with Raven Wood subdivision residents, hear their complaints, and see if there is any way to help them. “We want to help them, if we can. We, like everyone else, are under tight budgetary restrictions because of the economy, but these people pay taxes, too, and if there is any way we can help them, we are going to do it,” said Lee, who has struck a conciliatory and helpful tone toward the residents.

The residents also received a responsive reception from the entire board of supervisors when they went before the board on March 5. Board members told county planning officials they wanted a thorough investigation of the residents’ problems.

The residents say they are experiencing flooding problems caused by rainstorm runoff flowing into Alligator Branch, which runs on the eastern side of the subdivision. The subdivision is located just north of the Holcomb and Section Line road intersection between Picayune and Nicholson, just west of U.S. Highway 11.

Lee told residents on March 5 that he did not see any way of attacking the Alligator Branch problem unless work to clear the branch of obstructions was started at its terminus with East Pearl River and progresses back to the head of the branch.

Lee told residents he was familiar with the problems along Alligator Branch

One resident who lives near the subdivision said beavers have built a dam across a portion of the branch.

Supervisors plan to meet on Wednesday at 9 a.m. in the supervisors’ meeting room in the Chancery Court Annex behind the main courthouse.