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Water park closing due to dispute with waterway district

PURVIS — Lamar County’s ongoing money dispute with the Pat Harrison Waterway District has resulted in the closing of the area’s line water park for the summer.

The Hattiesburg American reports Little Black Creek Water Park will be closed from July 1 to Sept. 1. PHWD said the 42-year-old Little Black Creek drew 150,000 to 175,000 visitors annually.

The situation is wrapped up in a dispute that started when the county board of supervisors decided while working on its 2011-2012 budget to end its membership with PHWD. The county claimed the $390,000 it paid to PHWD each year could be put to better use.

PHWD lawyer Jolly Matthews says the loss of Lamar County’s financial support put a strain on the district’s ability to pay for the services offered patrons at the water park.

He said PHWD has spent more than $750,000 “in the past fiscal year with businesses for supplies for the park.”

“Little Black Creek might have one year, but that’s about it,” Matthews said. “When it does reopen, it likely will be on a very limited basis.”

Matthews said the only consistent moneymaker in PHWD’s nine-park system was Flint Creek Water Park in Wiggins.

County Administrator Chuck Bennett said the county receives no direct revenue from the park, and has no say-so on the use of its membership contribution.

PHWD filed a petition in Forrest County Chancery Court on May 3, asking for the 2011-12 membership dues and any associated damages from the county. The county has until June 3 to respond to PHWD’s complaint.

Lamar County had been a part of Pat Harrison since 1962. The law creating PHWD requires member counties to contribute to its annual budget.

In 1998, the legislation was amended to create a process for members who wanted to leave the district.

Matthews said those amendments usurped agreements the county had made with the federal government when Little Black Creek Water Park was created in the late 1960s and early 1970s, including a provision agreed to by all district members to support the maintenance and operation of the park in perpetuity.

“It’s our contention that they can’t leave the district,” Matthews said.

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