Supervisors can’t see eye to eye on Anchor Lake Road project

Published 7:00 am Thursday, February 12, 2015

Two Pearl River County supervisors are currently in Washington D.C. in an effort to seek funding for several county projects, but one member of the board decided not to go at the last minute because he disagrees with one of the projects.
District V Supervisor Sandy Kane Smith said he intended to take the trip with Board President J. Patrick Lee and newly elected District II Supervisor Malcolm Perry, until he found out funding would be sought to move forward with the West Union Anchor Lake Road Connector project.
The project has been a topic of contention with a family of landowners that has roots in that area. Smith said that back in the 1960s the family’s land was divided when Interstate 59 was constructed. Now, another project threatens to split the land again. The county is eyeing the connector road from West Union Road to Anchor Lake Road to allow residents that live in that area easy access to the Interstate.
However, Smith said two public hearings were held in 2011 and 2013, where landowners expressed their discontent.
Smith feels confident that if the county moves forward with the project the family will take the matter to court. He said if it does, he will sit beside the family during the court proceedings.
Smith said he feels so strongly about this topic for two reasons, the project affects people in his district, and a proposed road project near his home recently threatened to force him to have to move.
Initially Smith wanted to push for an Interstate exchange at Anchor Lake Road, but was told by a former transportation commissioner the expense would be too much, estimated to be about $20 million.
Lee’s side of the story is that the project has already been approved by a majority of the board, in a 3-2 vote. Additionally, their trip to D.C. is not just to seek funding for the connector road project, but about four others, including the Millard lake, renovation of the county courthouse, the Ridge Road project, reimbursement for the expense to certify 2,000 acres of county property for economic development and debt assistance or forgiveness of the fraudulent Medicaid billing by the previous Pearl River County Hospital administration.
While the project in question may entail some additional right of way acquisition from the landowners, Lee said no homes would be displaced, and this road would provide the Pearl River County School District with access to 400 acres of 16th section land that could be used in the future construction of a school.
Lee said that while the school has no immediate plans to build on that property, it will happen eventually. By building this connector road the district will have immediate access to that land.
Currently, Lumpkin Road provides Anchor Lake Road residents access to the Interstate, but Lee said the road is not only narrow, but dangerously winding. Lee also pointed out that the connector project would construct a state aid road, which means the county would not be financially responsible for its maintenance.
Smith feels he’s standing up for people in his district.
“I’m not into taking people’s land. That’s not the business I got into,” Lee said.
Lee said the county currently operates under a unit system, where the board is charged with the concerns of the county as a whole.
“We’re supposed to be working for the betterment of the county as a whole, not my district or your district,” Lee said.
The total cost of this project is estimated to be $3.5 million, which will entail using $500,000 of the county’s allocated state aid funding. To Smith, those are funds that could be better used elsewhere.
“If we vote on it next week, I’m voting against it,” Smith said.
The board meets again on Wednesday Feb. 18, at 9 a.m. in the old county courthouse.

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