Hearing this week on proposed railroad abandonment

October 16th, 2011 No comments

Attorney General Jim Hood has joined the chorus of people asking the federal Surface Transportation Board to hold a public hearing on Grenada Railway’s plans to abandon  a stretch of rail from Grenada to Canton.

Hood asked the STB that the hearing be held in Grenada so stakeholders on the line could air their grievances.

Hood’s plea to the STB followed one by the Mississippi Department of Transportation.

Mike Tagert, whose northern district includes a significant portion of the targeted line, said abandonment could have an adverse effect on that area’s ability to attract new economic development.

“We’ll no longer have rail service in the area,” he told the Mississippi Business Journal in an interview last week. “And there are companies that already use the rail. It’ll have an immediate impact on them.”

Rep. Warner McBride, D-Courtland, chairman of the Transportation Committee, has set a hearing – not one sanctioned by the STB — at the Capitol for Tuesday. “I hope to let the general public know what’s going on,” McBride said. “We also want to let the Surface Transportation Board that we as a Legislature do not support the abandonment of this line.”

The request by Hood and MDOT has a tough road ahead of it, said Walter Brown, a Natchez attorney MDOT retained to represent the state.

The type of abandonment Grenada Railway seeks is what’s known as an “exemption abandonment,” meaning the company is asking the STB to fast-track the process, hearing it without rounds of hearings but with briefs.

“There are two ways to do it – the regular abandonment, where you have hearings with cross examination and all that, and an exemption abandonment, where the (the STB) makes a decision based on filings,” Brown said. An exemption abandonment means a fast-tracked, non-controversial process, which is not appropriate in this case. We’ll ask for the STB not to consider this as an exemption or an expedited track, but to consider the full application. Most abandonments are done on an exemption basis, so we know we have an uphill fight on that issue. Very rarely is an oral hearing granted in an exemption abandonment.”

Brown said Mississippi Department of Transportation has a filing due Oct. 27 that will seek a regular abandonment process.

If the STB chooses to allow Grenada Railway to proceed under exemption abandonment rules, there are options for the state, Brown said. For example, the STB could impose conditions for environmental reasons, or reasons meant to protect properties along the line that are on the National Register of Historic Places.

“But the most important thing right now is to try to persuade the STB to consider this a regular abandonment,” Brown said.

The timeline of an exemption abandonment is squarely on the side of Grenada Railway. By eliminating hearings, the railway can officially abandon the line 110 days after their original filing stating their intention to do so. In this case, that’s Jan. 6. A regular abandonment would slow down that process considerably.

Mississippi Central Railroad Co., an Illinois-based company that own a few lines in Northeast Mississippi, has filed with the STB a notice that it intends to file an offer of financial assistance. An OFA is an information-gathering technique one railroad uses to glean financial information about another that is considering abandonment. The possibility exists that Mississippi Central could purchase Grenada Railway and operate it as a short line railroad, Brown said.

In filings, Grenada Railway said the line handled 289 carloads of inbound and outbound freight in 2010. In the first six months of 2011, it handled 92 carloads. The operating loss for 2010 was $101,000; for the first six months of 2011, it was $94,674.

Grenada Railway bought the line from Canadian National in 2009.

Yet another option would be for the affected counties to form a railroad authority, similar to what three counties in Southwest Mississippi did earlier this year in response to their fears of Grenada Railway’s parent company abandoning a track from Brookhaven to Natchez and selling it for scrap.

The biggest problem with that, Brown said, is that Grenada Railway said in its initial filing that it would take no less than $21 million for the track and related materials in a scrap sale.

“That is a lot of money, and therein lies the problem,” Brown said.

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Noone’s loss is a big one

October 14th, 2011 No comments

Jackson’s business community woke up to jarring news Friday morning.

Craig Noone, the chef and owner of Parlor Market on Capitol Street, was killed in a car accident around 1 a.m. Friday at the intersection of Capitol and West streets.

Although I never spoke to Noone for any type of story, I had been in his restaurant plenty of times, and had enjoyed all of them. You could tell he took a lot of pride in his place. He’s my favorite kind of person to write about — a small business owner who assumes all of the risk to build something he believes in. Starting up Parlor Market required no special legislative session, no government handout, and it didn’t touch off a round of press releases from politicians literally racing each other to take credit for having made it happen.

The only thing Noone asked of taxpayers was for them to eat at his restaurant. Plenty of folks took him up on it. That should continue.

Jackson’s WAPT has the details here.

And here is a story the MBJ‘s Laura Smith did shortly after Parlor Market opened a littler over a year ago:

From the owner to the hostess stand and from the floors to the bar, nearly everything in Parlor Market tells a story.

Owner Craig Noone got his start at the Palace Casino Resort on the coast after graduating from the Texas Culinary Academy. He then moved to Italy where he obtained his master’s from the Italian Culinary Institute.

Before opening Parlor Market, Noone worked with renowned chefs John Besh of Restaurant August in New Orleans and Stephan Pyles and his eponymous restaurant in Dallas.

Noone had wanted to open a restaurant since he was a child because his parents didn’t cook all that much.

“All I ever wanted to do was open a restaurant,” he said. “I just thought I’d be a restaurateur and go to culinary school to learn more about food. While I was there I decided I would be a chef.”

After a decade working in restaurants, Noone heard about the redevelopment of downtown Jackson with the reopening of the King Edward Hotel.

“I didn’t know if I was ready, but I knew it was the right time,” he said. “I knew if downtown did come back, and I didn’t come immediately, I might not be able to get a place, and I wanted to help out with the renaissance downtown.”

And he has.

Parlor Market opened in September 2010 drawing on the building’s former life as inspiration for nearly everything inside.  It’s named Parlor Market because that was the name of a grocery store in the building during the 1920s that sold local produce and smoked meats. Today, the restaurant smokes some of its own meats. The banquettes are leather to pay homage to the days when the building housed Continental Leather. Cypress beams in the ceiling are a tribute to the lumber company housed there, and the raw oyster bar pays its respects to Al’s Half Shell, also once housed there. The hostess stand, bar and tables are made from wood taken from an 1858 plantation home in south Louisiana, and the floors are from a 1910 Louisiana home.

The menu centers on seasonal Southern cuisine with favorites being pork belly and wild game like antelope, elk, wild boar and duck. Restaurant employees from Texas, Georgia and Florida bring their heritage to each dish.

“I like to saw we have the oldest and newest tables in Jackson,” Noone said. “We worked really hard – not only on the food, but on the restaurant itself. We wanted the restaurant to tell a story because everybody in the south is definitely a storyteller.”

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Eastover development’s impact depends on popularity, accessibility

October 9th, 2011 No comments

One of the many enduring lessons from The Great Recession is that home values are more vulnerable to a plunge than they were thought to be.

Two of Jackson’s more affluent neighborhoods — Eastover and Fondren — are a testament to that.

Two Realtors who do business in each told the Mississippi Business Journal that a new mixed-use development whose first phase could open in fall 2013 could theoretically help property values get back to where they were before the real estate meltdown.

Jackson-based developer Ted Duckworth has spent nearly five years working on the District at Eastover, a $110-million, 400,000-square-foot lifestyle center with retail, residential and office space. Duckworth is under contract with the state to purchase the 20 acres on the site of the Old Blind School, which abuts Eastover and sits across Interstate 55 from Fondren. The site is a 10-minute drive from downtown Jackson.

“If you look at the history of (Atlanta’s) Buckhead, East Memphis and places like that, everybody wants the convenience of the city,” said Denise Furr, a Realtor with Donald Cooper Realty in Jackson. “But when you start (taking away) special amenities then the whole idea of suburbia looks wonderful. But when you pull it all back in, it’s where a lot of people want to be. It makes life simpler. It makes it more convenient.”

Furr estimated the Eastover development could bump home values up between 10 percent and 15 percent.

“We’ve lost that (during the recession),” she said. “Between the (District) and hopefully the growth of the economy, we should get that back. Something like that is going to do huge things for this area, and not just this area. It could span farther than that. We have a lot of (older homes) in Jackson. People are doing a lot of renovating and adding-on, and there’s some new construction. When you have a new complex like that, I think it could do for our area what Renaissance has done for Ridgeland.

“It depends on what tenants (Duckworth) gets. I really think he’s looking for niche retail shops, like the specialty grocery store.”

Duckworth told the MBJ in September that his retail targets will be a mix of locally owned shops and niche national chains that are not already in the Metro Jackson market.

The popularity of those retail tenants could be the difference between the development having a significant impact on area home values, or having a nominal one, said Realtor Traci Maloney.

“If it’s done right, I think it can have a positive effect,” said Maloney, who owns Traci Maloney Real Estate. “What I would compare it to is the Highland Park area in Dallas, where it blends into the neighborhood instead of sticking out. Hopefully we won’t have any 10-story buildings. If it’s done appropriately, it could enhance property values and enhance the area overall.”

Maloney said it’s more likely the most immediate effect the District will have on the area has nothing to do with a home’s selling price: time on the market. Instead of a home occupying the market for six months, it could potentially sell within 30 to 60 days.

“It could make somebody want to choose that location instead of another,” she said. “A house could sell quicker because of that. Over time, you could see an increase in value. Initially, though, it will be more of a desirability thing.”

Furr and Maloney both said the District being accessible by bike trail and/or walking path would be huge selling points. Duckworth said that is part of the plan for the development, though not immediately.

Furr said she had already mentioned the development to clients looking to buy in the area, but had not used it as one of her primary selling points, and wouldn’t until closer to construction time on the first phase. Maloney said she would most likely wait until work started on it, or at least got closer than it is now to starting, before bringing it up at all.

“It’s so new and doesn’t seem real concrete yet,” Maloney said. “When you start to see ground breaking, that’s when I would use it as a tool to promote the area. You don’t want to promise something that ultimately won’t be there.”

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Hood: Investigation gives reason to believe Brandon Rep. McGee violated ethics laws

October 6th, 2011 No comments

Mississippi Ethics Commission executive director Tom Hood just confirmed to Magnolia Marketplace that an investigation by that agency has turned up evidence that Rep. Kevin McGee, R-Brandon, violated the rules governing lawmakers having a financial interest in state vendors.

Hood said a hearing on the matter that was scheduled for Friday morning had been continued.

Hood said the Ethics Commission received an anonymous tip a few months ago that McGee’s financial interest in Pearl-based Service Printers Inc. violated the aforementioned rules about lawmakers being involved in entities that did business with state agencies. On the Service Printers website, McGee is listed as the company’s president.

After the investigation turned up probable cause to support charging McGee with a violation, Hood said, the Commission filed a formal complaint, which would have been aired Friday had the hearing been continued. What will most likely happen is that one of McGee’s attorneys will appear before the Commission during its regularly scheduled meeting to make a settlement offer, a few of which have already been rejected, Hood said.

Rep. Jeff Smith, R-Columbus, and Rep. Mark Baker, R-Brandon, are representing McGee. Baker wouldn’t say much when I reached him on his cell phone. McGee, who is unopposed in his re-election bid, did not immediately return a message left on his cell phone. Smith’s cell phone rang unanswered.

I’ll update this throughout the day.

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Hood, Simpson duck major policy issues at Stennis luncheon

October 3rd, 2011 1 comment

Current attorney general Jim Hood and his Republican opponent Steve Simpson both support the personhood amendment.

Things are pretty murky after that.

The two candidates’ feelings about the three initiatives with which they will share a ballot next month were what I really wanted to learn during their appearance at Monday’s monthly meeting of the Stennis Capitol Press Corps.

The legal challenge to the Affordable Care Act and the hiring of outside counsel for state-backed litigation have been the main themes of the campaign — at least Simpson’s — so far. I’ve heard enough about both.

For Simpson, the stickiest ballot initiative is the one that seeks to bar the use of eminent domain for private enterprise. For Hood, it’s the one that would require photo identification at the polls.

After being asked for their stance on each, I still don’t know what it is. Bobby Harrison of the Northeast Mississippi Daily Journal tried first. He asked Simpson how he felt about all three initiatives. Simpson was great guns for voter ID and personhood. But what he said about the eminent domain measure is, well, baffling.

“I don’t know how I feel about that,” Simpson told the 100 or so people gathered at the University Club in Jackson. “There are strong advocates for and against it.”  Later, I asked Simpson if he considered job-creation a public use. “I consider it a public opportunity,” he said. So I asked him how he planned to vote on the issue. “I haven’t changed my mind from two minutes ago. I just don’t know,” he said.

After he noted supported for the eminent domain measure, Hood was equally evasive when it came to voter ID. He said if the initiatives passed — and they surely will — that he would defend them against any legal challenge should he be re-elected. Asked which way he would vote on the voter ID measure, Hood exercised his constitutional right not to reveal it. “I”m going to take that with me to the voting booth,” he said.

It’s hard to recall another instance of political hopefuls, at least those I’ve covered, flatly refusing to say which side of an issue they’re on. I know for sure I’ve never heard a candidate at any level say “I don’t know” in reponse to a policy question, nor have I heard one decline to reveal how he will vote on a policy issue.

It’s embarassing, weak and ridiculous.

Categories: Elections, News, Politics Tags:

Kewanee still available should Hyundai want it?

October 2nd, 2011 No comments

If Mississippi is to attract another automaker, it will have to assemble a new megasite.

Mississippi Development Authority interim executive director Leland Speed said in a commercial real estate roundtable Sept. 21 that the state currently does not have a megasite assembled that would meet the size and infrastructure requirements of an automotive manufacturer.

Speed’s assertion came in response to a question about the possibility South Korean automaker Hyundai was looking at Mississippi as a possible destination for a facility to produce its best-selling Sonata sedan.

Hyundai builds the Sonata in Montgomery, Ala., and industry speculation for the past several months has been that the facility cannot meet the sales demand for the car.

Speed himself let slip in an interview earlier in September with a Jackson television station that the state had been in contact Hyundai about the company locating here.

He has declined to address it further. Speed said Sept. 21 that at least three automakers are “rumored” to be exploring Mississippi.

“I can’t comment,” he said when asked if Mississippi had been in contact with any of them.

The East Mississippi Business Development Corp. advertises on its website the Kewanee megasite as being available, with utilities like water and sewer and broadband already installed.

EMBDC executive director Wade Jones said his organization is still marketing Kewanee to original equipment manufacturers (OEMs). The site, Jones said, meets the size and infrastructure requirements for an automotive manufacturer or a facility that could build engines or transmissions for an automaker. Jones said the two Class I railroads that service the site and the adjoining interstate highway system make the site ideal for either of those. He said the EMBDC has spent $450,000 on engineering the site, to provide utilities and site work to ensure it’s not susceptible to flooding.

Kia, another Korean automaker, eyeballed Kewanee in 2005, and according to Speed, had decided to locate on the site, but the plant eventually went to Montgomery. The company backed out after it determined the labor force in Meridian and the surrounding area was insufficient, Speed said. Specifically, Speed said automotive companies prefer their workforce account for less than 1 percent of the area’s “labor shed.”

“This is so they can be sure of workforce quality. The week of Katrina they showed and we met with them in Montgomery,” he said. “(Kia told us) we need  to move farther west. So we moved twice, once on east side of Forest and one on west side of Forest. We didn’t own that land. We assumed we’d be able to assemble it by paying insane prices and, if need be, use eminent domain. They finally wanted it moved to Pelahatchie. We just couldn’t let them get that close (to Nissan). We were working Toyota at the same time. We figured we weren’t going to get but one or the other. So we went with Toyota. It worked out.”

Jones said two recent studies the EMBDC commissioned show more than 29,000 people who are either currently unemployed or under-employed are available within a 65-mile radius of Kewanee. That combined with the four community colleges in the area, he said, should put to rest any workforce concerns a prospect would have.

“We know we can supply the workforce,” Jones said.

Hyundai senior management told the automotive blog Auto Pacific last summer that it would consider building another U.S. facility when Hyundai and Kia sold more than 900,000 units per year in the U.S.

In 2010, the companies combined to sell just shy of 847,500 units stateside. The Montgomery facility, according to the company, has the ability to produce 400,000 units annually, and is at capacity. Hyundai is already importing its midsize Elantra from Korea to meet its demand, and Kia has added a third shift at its West Point, Ga., facility, which makes crossover sport utility vehicles for Kia and Hyundai.

Auto Pacific hypothesized that since Hyundai and its subsidiary Kia already had plants in Alabama and Georgia, it had likely reached the limit of public assistance in each of those states, which could bolster Mississippi’s case.

What could possibly work against Mississippi are the two automakers – Nissan and Toyota – that already call the state home.

Generally, Speed said, automakers prefer not to be within 90 miles of one another. In the case of Nissan and the Kia facility the state missed out on, both companies had reservations about Kia’s wage scale, which was $10 less per hour than Nissan’s.

“What you’re doing is just begging for a union to come into that site,” Speed said. “That’s a formula for trouble.”

What also puts Mississippi at a disadvantage, Speed said, is the state’s inability to quickly assemble a megasite should the need to do so arise.

Post-flood levee repair, and its funding, take center stage

September 18th, 2011 No comments

Another phase of the recovery from the historic spring flood has started – the race to repair and rebuild the levee system that was strained by the high water, and the political process to pay for it.

Relentless spring rainfall in the Lower Mississippi Valley combined with annual snow melt in the upper Midwest filled the Mississippi River with more water than it had seen since floods of 1927 and 1937.

The result was disastrous: Millions of acres of crops from Missouri to New Orleans ruined, homes and businesses destroyed and a levee system that in spots is in need of major repair.

Save the Delta, a grassroots campaign started while the water was still high, is an organization working on behalf of the Memphis-based Mississippi Valley Flood Control Association to push Congress for funding to completely rebuild or otherwise repair the mainline river levee system and the backwater levees in the Lower Mississippi Valley. The Lower Mississippi Valley stretches from Southeast Missouri to New Orleans.

Congress has already appropriated some money for levee repair. On Sept. 7, $4.86 billion was allocated for U.S. Army Corps of Engineers water projects. It included $1.3 billion for work on the Mississippi River and Tributaries Project, a government flood control program launched in 1928.

Save the Delta has a goal of $3 billion to completely restore the levees of the Lower Mississippi Valley to pre-flood condition.

In Mississippi, the Vicksburg District of the Corps of Engineers has just started letting contracts to repair its part of the mainline and backwater levee systems.

Kavanaugh Breazeale, District spokesperson, said last week a $3.1 million contract was awarded recently to fix two seepage areas near Eagle Lake, an area between Vicksburg and Yazoo City that was among the hardest hit by the flood.

Breazeale said the Corps was still evaluating levee systems up and down the river in Mississippi and elsewhere to see exactly how much damage was done, and compiling a list of areas that should be prioritized for repair before next spring’s flood season.

“It’s an ongoing process,” Breazeale said. “Experts are out there now still trying to find out what needs to be done, what can wait and what can’t. There’s still an ongoing assessment and that goes for Vicksburg as well as the whole division from Canada to New Orleans and everywhere in between. There is no number (for a total price tag) yet, but it’s still growing.”

During a Senate subcommittee hearing in July, Sen. Thad Cochran said the mainline levee system, which runs along the Mississippi River, did its job, preventing floodwaters from reaching people and property on the non-river side. Most of the serious flooding, he said, was along the backwater levees that abut the smaller rivers and streams that make up the Mississippi’s spider web of tributaries.

“The situation prompts me to question whether or not we need to go back to the drawing board to see what could be done to protect more people from this kind of disaster,” Cochran said.

Mississippi Emergency Management Agency director Mike Womack said in that same hearing that a lot of existing backwater flood-control infrastructure “was not enough to protect the citizens.”

Womack singled out the Yazoo River Basin, in the South Delta, as an example of an area whose flood-control infrastructure was exposed as inadequate. Water overtopped the Basin’s levee in several spots.

Cochran spokesperson Chris Gallegos said in an email to the Mississippi Business Journal that it was likely Congress would approve some form of additional disaster relief funding for the Corps of Engineers, perhaps as early as this week. It could come in the form of a stand-alone bill, he wrote, or as part of a continuing resolution designed to keep the federal government running after the Sept. 30 end of fiscal year 2011.

Categories: 2011 flood, News, Politics Tags:

Hyundai in Mississippi — real deal, or eminent domain rallying cry?

September 16th, 2011 4 comments

Jackson television station WLBT’s Bert Case may have stumbled upon a major scoop Thursday during the course of an on-camera interview with MDA interim executive director Leland Speed.

Case was asking about the eminent domain initiative that will appear on the November ballot when, apparently, Speed mentioned the possibility of South Korean automaker Hyundai building a plant in Mississippi that would produce its Sonata sedan.

I first got wind of this about 3 p.m. Friday, and I’ve been calling everybody I think might know something since.

Two folks who spoke on the condition of anonymity, and who would know if negotiations were getting serious, said the same thing: They don’t know anything, and my mention of it is the first they’ve heard of anything relating to Mississippi getting a third automotive manufacturing plant.

Speed declined further comment to Case after the slip, and there’s zero chance Gov. Haley Barbour’s office will do anything different.

If you’re a conspiracy theorist, you could reason that Speed intentionally floated the idea that Hyundai is looking at Mississippi as an example of the damage he says the restriction of the use of eminent domain for private enterprise would cause the state’s economic development efforts. I’m not saying that is or isn’t the case. I’m just saying that the few times I’ve talked with Speed about taking away the state’s power of eminent domain for economic development, he’s been vigorous in his assertion that it would take the state out of the running for mega projects like a Hyundai facility. This would be the perfect way to prove that point.

This will be worth keeping eyes and ears on.

Categories: Eminent domain, Manufacturing, News Tags:

Trustmark found at fault in trust mismanagement lawsuit

September 15th, 2011 No comments

Hinds County Chancellor Denise Owens has ordered Trustmark National Bank to pour $1.75 million into a trust that she ruled it inappropriately invaded.

The ruling came after a trial earlier in the summer, in which Trustmark and former trust officer Joe Dick were accused by Meg Weidner of improperly disbursing $1.7 million to Dee Farrell, Meg’s mother, over a period of six years. Weidner claimed, and Owens agreed, that 150 disbursements from October 2002 to August 2008 to Farrell were improper.

 In her ruling, issued Tuesday, Owens said Trustmark was “grossly derelict” in its management of the trust, specifically in its failure to follow documentation rules. As part of the ruling, Owens removed Trustmark as trustee and awarded Weidner $100,000 in punitive damages.

“Trustmark is a fine institution,” wrote Weidner’s attorney Mike Farrell (no relation to Dee), in an email to Magnolia Marketplace. “I think it will learn from these mistakes, correct them and be a better institution at the end of the day.”

I’ve asked Trustmark for a response, including if it has plans to appeal. When I get something, I’ll post it.

UPDATE: Statement from T. Harris Collier III, Trustmark general counsel: “We are in the process of reviewing Judge Owen’s ruling and considering all of our options. Trustmark believes that all of the distributions from the trust were consistent with the intent of the trust. The Court did not conclude that a single payment was improper under the terms of the trust. However, the Court determined that certain documentation policies and procedures were not followed by the former trust officer.”

 

 

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State law, FEMA rules diverge on flood mitigation ordinance

September 11th, 2011 No comments

An opinion issued last month by Attorney General Jim Hood reveals a discrepancy between state law and regulations set by the Federal Emergency Management Agency regarding the application of the Flood Mitigation Ordinance that is a big part of the National Flood Insurance Program.

Hood’s opinion, issued Aug. 17, says there is a provision in Mississippi law that allows for hunting and fishing camps to be exempt from flood mitigation ordinances adopted by individual counties. Those ordinances govern everything from the height of structures that sit in flood plains, to what type of flood insurance they’re required to carry.

Where the state’s exemption for hunting and fishing camps becomes a problem is with FEMA, whose regulations require that counties adopt the ordinances minus the exemption Hood says state law provides.

One of the provisions of the FMO says that the first floor of buildings in flood-prone areas have to be raised to a point above the base flood elevation.

“We have learned from certain counties in the Delta that FEMA is requiring the local governing authorities to enforce the (FMO) against all structures in the affected areas including hunting and fishing camps that are not flood-insured and whose owners do not wish to be insured,” Hood wrote in a letter to Mississippi’s congressional delegation. Hood is asking for congressional help to square the difference between state laws and FEMA regulations. Congress returned from its August recess Sept. 6.

“These camps are on the west side of the (Mississippi River) levee,” Hood’s letter read. “The local authorities have been told by persons from both MEMA and FEMA that if they exempt these hunting and fishing camps from the (FMO), the counties, and possibly the entire state, could be prohibited from participating in the NFIP.  Under our interpretation of state law, however, counties and cities are in fact prohibited from enforcing building codes against duly qualified hunting and fishing camps.

“While we certainly do not wish to jeopardize our continued participation in NFIP, I see no valid rationale for requiring hunting and fishing camps near the river which are not flood-insured to comply with flood-related elevation and other requirements.  It would seem that this matter could be resolved by FEMA allowing the counties to obtain sworn affidavits from these homeowners that they will not seek any federal insurance or aid without first meeting the requirements of the flood ordinance.”

Tom Ross, a Clarksdale attorney who represents the Coahoma County Board of Supervisors, asked Hood for the opinion. Ross said the discrepancy became an issue during and after last spring’s record-breaking Mississippi River flood. The floodwaters, which reached levels unseen since 1927, inundated the Mississippi Delta, destroying homes, farm land, wildlife sanctuaries, businesses, and ran up a damage tab in Mississippi alone that early estimates show will reach into the billions.

Ross said the conflict between Mississippi law and FEMA’s rules pertaining to hunting and fishing camps only added to the confusion.

“The law was not as clear as I would have liked,” Ross said in an interview with the Mississippi Business Journal. “It needs to be clarified. Cities and counties were kind of caught in the middle.”

Hood said in a press release issued by his office that if Congress fails to clarify the difference in state law and FEMA rules, he would at least consider turning to the court system for a remedy.

Until then, Ross said counties trying to make sense of which rules to follow will have to sit and wait.

“We’d be happy to offer any assistance we could, and we could certainly offer some real-world examples of how this is a problem, but the policy-making side of it would have to happen at the state level,” he said.

FEMA officials did not respond to request for comment by the time the MBJ went to press last week.

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