Jury rules against city; utility to get $8M

GULFPORT — A Harrison County jury has awarded Dedeaux Utility Co. $8.06 million in its dispute with the city of Gulfport.

The fight dates back to when the city seized the utility as part of its 1994 annexation of the Orange Grove area.

Jurors set a fair market value of $7.08 million for the water and sewer company, which had 1,300 customers when the eminent domain petition was filed in December 1996. The jury put a value of $981,000 on the company’s assets from 1996 until they were taken eight years later in 2004.

“We’re pleased that the case is moving in the right direction,” said Peter Abide, who along with Harry Allen represents Dedeaux Utility.

Although the company or Gulfport can appeal the decision, Abide said, “We hope that the current administration will move this into the resolution stage rather than the courtroom stage.”

The Sun Herald reports that Mayor Billy Hewes and the administration are still evaluating the verdict.

It was the third trial in the case.

Company representative Warren Dedeaux said in a news release, “We have always felt the city of Gulfport undervalued our system. This has been a long ordeal for us and we hope the city will work with us to bring this matter to an end.”

Dedeaux was one of five private utility companies Gulfport was required to buy because of the annexation.

A jury decided in the first trial in 2004 that the company was worth $3.6 million. That decision was appealed and Abide said the Mississippi Supreme Court reviewed the case and ordered another trial.

The jury in the second trial in 2008 put the value at $5.1 million. That was appealed again, resulting in the third trial.

Gulfport has paid the original $3.6 million and the additional value plus interest awarded in the second trial. The company now is owed $3 million from the third trial plus about $3 million in interest.

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