OCEAN SPRINGS — A judge has ruled the state has no claim on two parcels of property on East Beach in Ocean Springs.
Two families filed the lawsuit in early 2010 when Ocean Springs had proposed constructing a 3,470-foot long sidewalk on the beach.
The city had obtained a lease along the beach from Secretary of State Delbert Hosemann, just as it did for the 1.2-mile walkway along Front Beach. In addition, the Mississippi Commission on Marine Resources approved the project.
The families said they own about 1,000 feet of the property where the proposed sidewalk was to be located. The property south of the road and the seawall was on their deeds and they pay taxes on it.
The issue ended up in Jackson County Chancery Court.
In the meantime, city officials abandoned their plans to construct the sidewalk on East Beach.
In the August decision, the chancellor found the tidelands owned by the state is the current mean high water line that adjoins the lands owned by families. The judge said as far as he could determine the beach between the seawall and the mean high water line was natural-made, not man-made.
“There is no factual basis for finding that the tidelands of the state extend any further inland than the mean high water line of the existing shoreline,” Lancaster wrote.
Jackson County Board of Supervisors president John McKay said the ruling makes a majority of the beaches in Jackson County private property.
“The judge ruled East Beach was private property. If that is the case, then the county cannot go on the beach and clean it nor replenish the sand,” Mayor Connie Moran told the Board of Aldermen.
City attorney John Edwards said the city, however, can remove debris and maintain the sidewalk on Front Beach.
“I am not aware of an attack on the Front Beach lease that we received from the Secretary of State. You need to do what is necessary to protect that infrastructure,” Edwards said.
“Just to be clear to everyone, I don’t think the city has ever claimed it owns either Front Beach or East Beach. We simply have asked who owned it, and the state said they owned it.”
The wording that Lancaster used in his decision could also include other beaches in Jackson County as well as Hancock County, Edwards said.
Property owner Clyde H. “Buddy” Gunn III said it is a matter of public record that only a certain number of properties along East and Front beaches extend across the roads and to the water line. Some properties only extend to the roads.
Gunn said the judge made a partial ruling in the lawsuit, so the case is still in litigation.
“I have always cleaned my beach, and I’ve told the county tractor drivers they had permission to drive across it,” Gunn said. “Time marches on. This issue will get resolved and the people will still enjoy the beach, and I will still continue to pay my taxes.”
The trial on the lawsuit returns to chancery court in Pascagoula Oct. 29. The secretary of state will appeal the judge’s partial judgment to the Mississippi Supreme Court, Edwards said.