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Commission sets fee for public to buy bridge video footage

VICKSBURG — Copies of videos from security cameras on the old U.S. Highway 80 bridge over the Mississippi River will cost the public $500 each.

The Vicksburg Bridge Commission voted this week to charge the fee to turn over footage from its security cameras when formally requested.

The Vicksburg Post reports a federal lawsuit was filed after a soybean barge hit the bridge in 2011 and was lodged at the base of the Interstate 20 span for three weeks.

The amount was chosen arbitrarily “to make it enough to where only somebody that needed it would ask for it,” commission chairman Robert Moss said.

State law is elastic on fees charged for providing records, stating public bodies “may establish fees reasonably calculated” to reimburse search costs.

In Mississippi, public entities have seven days to turn over public records once requested by members of the public.

The highway bridge closed briefly after a 30-barge tow broke loose March 23, 2011, from the MV Kay A. Eckstein on the Mississippi River and one barge struck and lodged against a pier, closing the river to southbound traffic for a time. Contract crews moved it to the Louisiana bank and cut it for scrap.

Footage of the barges breaking loose was played during a commission meeting that April. Cellphone videos of the incident taken by onlookers during the three-week saga are posted on YouTube.

In March of 2012, the Louisiana Department of Transportation and Development sued Marquette Transportation Co. for $1.7 million in damages to the bridge and labor costs, which the suit says involved worsened scouring around two piers.

At the time, LDOTD officials said the hole deepened from fast current swirling about the stranded barge. In court briefs, a state engineer said the hole widened 20 percent between March 26 and March 31. Settlement talks in the case are to begin June 26 before U.S. Magistrate Karen Hayes. A bench trial is set Sept. 3.

Video was requested informally by LDODT’s lawyers and no formal subpoena has been filed. Commissioners said they plan to ask the agency’s lawyers to state their intentions in writing before turning over any footage.

Cameras at the bridge were purchased in 2007 with a federal grant.

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