Judge rules in county’s favor in Raven Wood case

Published 4:31 pm Friday, February 22, 2013

Court Judge Prentiss Harrell on Thursday ruled in favor of Pearl River County, saying the county had not violated any regulations governing use of a five-acre open space plot of land that was being worked on in connection with the construction of a $30 million “sand fracing” plant between Picayune and Nicholson, near J.J. Holcomb Road on the west side of the railroad tracks.

The five-acre site is on the southern end of a 30-acre site being used to construct a $30 million “sand fracing” plant, which is supposed to employ 50 persons when it becomes fully operational.

Skip Negrotto of Gulfport, the attorney for residents of Raven Wood subdivision, had asked the court in a civil action for a temporary restraining order to stop all work on the five-acre plot, a preliminary injunction and a writ of mandamus.

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The writ of mandamus would have required the board of supervisors to take a number of steps regarding the property, including a survey of the property, and charging and arresting officials who, residents allege, had violated the county flood plain ordinances.

Judge Harrell issued a summary judgment in the county’s favor, however. A summary judgment is a legal procedural device during civil litigation to promptly and expeditiously dispose of a case without trial. Negrotto had asked for a summary judgment on behalf of his clients.

After the ruling — which followed a one-hour back-and-forth discussion between Negrotto and Joe Montgomery, Pearl River County board of supervisors attorney, before Judge Harrell — Negrotto said he did not know whether or not he would appeal the judge’s decision. He said he would have to talk to the plaintiffs he represents. Negrotto has 30 days to file an appeal of the judge’s decision.

If an appeal is made, it would be filed with the Mississippi Supreme Court.

Outside the courtroom, Brenda Rody, one of the plaintiffs who lives in Raven Wood, said she was not sure whether or not residents would appeal the decision. Asked about her feelings on the court decision, she responded, “No comment.”

Montgomery said the case was a “classic property rights’ issue.”

Raven Wood residents first appeared before supervisors in March, 2012, complaining about flooding of their properties, caused in part, they claimed, by the construction of a large industrial plant adjacent to their properties in Raven Wood subdivision and work on the five-acre plot.

They said they could not learn anything about the plant from local or state officials. Supervisors then told residents it was a “sand drying plant” that would manufacture drilling sands for the oil industry, and was owned by Alliance Group LLC.

In preparing his ruling, Harrell said, he had read twice all the case briefs, which were extensive, and had personally walked over and inspected the plant acreage, including the five-acre plot under dispute. Said Harrell, after the hour-long tit for tat between attorneys, “The court denies Concerned Citizens (of Raven Wood) a motion for a summary judgment.”

Concerning issuing a writ of mandamus, Harrell said a review of documents submitted to the court shows: “No violations of permits, flood plain developments and matters, in effect today. The original five acres is not in violation, and if the county is not in violation, a writ of mandamus is not proper.”

A writ of mandamus is an extraordinary writ, issued by a court, commanding an official to perform a ministerial act that the law recognizes as an absolute duty.

One point in the plaintiffs’ suit requested that officials that have violated the county’s flood plain ordinances be charged, and arrested by the sheriff.

Harrell said the court “sympathizes with the homeowners, that their properties are in a drainage area,” but he said the plaintiffs have failed to demonstrate to the court that the county is in violation of its duties in connection with the maintenance of the five acres and have failed to demonstrate that the homeowners will suffer actual damage.

The five-acre plot was acquired by the county during a FEMA hazardous mitigation process by acquiring an old trailer park named Shady Oakes.

The trailer park was later torn down. The land reverted to what is called “open space use.” No structures can ever be built on the land, according to federal statutes governing the land’s acquisition and future use.