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Beach remains mess post-Isaac; court ruling at issue

OCEAN SPRINGS — Beaches at Ocean Springs are still a mess after Hurricane Isaac, and worries over a court ruling are one reason why they aren’t being cleaned up.

The Sun Herald reports Jackson County officials interpret a recent court ruling dealing with the beachfront property of two landowners as meaning that all of the county’s beaches are now private property. And it’s illegal for the county to do work on private property.

Meanwhile the state health department has declared the beaches a health hazard.

The hurricane complicates the issue because beach cleanup is expensive and the federal government reimburses most of those costs. So if Jackson County won’t clean the beach, Ocean Springs wants to make sure the city will be reimbursed if it hires a contractor to do it.

Chancellor Robert Lancaster made a partial ruling in August on the property rights of two landowners along East Beach. He said their land, which includes the beach out front, is not part of the public trust tidelands.

Interpreting that to mean the beach is no longer public, attorneys for the state, county and city have warned their entities to treat the beaches as if they’re private property, leaders said.

Board of Supervisors President John McKay said the Secretary of State’s office is appealing the ruling, so county leaders don’t want to do anything until that appeal goes through and they are given a nod to proceed.

“We want to win the case,” he said. “The main goal is to return that property to the public. So we have to suffer with a little debris for a while.

“We don’t want to, by any means, jeopardize our case by somehow admitting that that is private property,” he said.

McKay said declaring a health hazard doesn’t change anything. He said the Board of Supervisors believes anything the county or city does to try to get around the issue of public entities working on private property might be seen as admitting the property is private.

A look at the beach Friday revealed piles of matted brown debris, boards with nails in them and swarms of flies.

McKay said anyone with a tractor or other equipment is welcome to volunteer to clean a section of beach. This is not an issue in Harrison County, because the beaches were declared public by a federal court during the Civil Rights era.

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