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Positive economic impact expected, too

Lake developments should enhance recreation in south

Man-made lakes are big business in Mississippi. Just look at the Ross Barnett Reservoir in Jackson, which is important for housing developments as well as for recreational activities such as fishing and boating.

Two counties in south Mississippi are planning large lake projects designed to enhance economic development while improving recreational offerings. An estimated $10 million in federal funds will be used to build a 1,160-acre lake near Meadville in Franklin County. Bids are being solicited for a private company to ante up another $20 million in construction costs in return for a 30-year operation contract.

And the Mississippi Legislature has allocated $450,000 for a preliminary design for a 330-acre freshwater lake in northeast George County. The design work being done by Neel-Schaffer, an engineering firm, is expected to be completed by late spring.

The Franklin County lake is being described as a major end-destination vacation area development expected to provide an economic boost to southwest Mississippi.

“To capture the maximum economic return, local individuals and corporations are encouraged to participate in a joint venture effort being coordinated by Southwest Mississippi Resource Conservation and Development (RC&D) Inc.,” said Bennie F. Hutchins, Southwest RC&D coordinator.

The recreational complex plans include conference facilities, a lodge, cabins, beaches, boat ramps, a marina, picnic shelters, fishing piers, camping pads, playing fields, a game room, hiking, jogging and biking trails, and an environmental education center. The facilities are planned on 4,000 acres of land surrounding the lake.

Construction of the lake is expected to begin in mid-1999 on U.S. Forest lands with federal funds from the Natural Resources Conservation Service. Both the construction and long-term operation of the surrounding recreation area will be contracted to a private party.

“Our efforts are intended to improve the odds of this contract going to a local company or corporation, maybe even one formed through a joint venture specifically for this purpose,” said Vickie Webb, chair of the RC&D Area Council. “A market study conducted by the University of Mississippi projects that within three years after opening, over 200,000 visitors per year will be spending $3.5 million annually at the recreation site while creating a $6-million economic impact to the area. We want to keep as much of this revenue within this area, or at least within the state, as possible.”

The Forest Service is expected to advertise for bids on construction and operation of the park in early 1999. RC&D is attempting to identify local individuals and companies that may have an interest in responding to the bids, either individually or as part of a joint ventures.

“We need interests and expertise in engineering, landscaping, construction, maintenance, etc. of water-based recreation facilities, and conference and lodging facilities,” Hutchins said. “It will take a cooperative effort and a variety of input to put together a legitimate and competitive bid, but the potential returns will justify the effort. We’ll be competing with national firms that already operate such facilities on public lands across the country. So we need local people with any such experiences, resources and venturesome spirit to respond.”

The Lake George project involves land owned by Luce Packing Company, International Paper and the George County schools. The three property owners have agreed to sell or lease the 900-1,000 acres of land needed to make the park, said Mike Smith, president of the George County Development Foundation, which is spearheading efforts to build the lake.

Smith said the lake is the one piece of the puzzle George County is missing. He said the estimated $3.5 million project would draw visitors from elsewhere in Mississippi and from Alabama. It would be the only large freshwater lake in a six-county region. The development foundation is working to secure funding to construct the dam and park.

About Becky Gillette

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