County to get $76k from old Chuquatonchee fund

 Chancery Court Clerk Amy Berry discusses the Chuquatonchee Creek money with Supervisor R.B. Davis while Board President Lynn Horton looks on.
Staff Writer

Clay County is getting a $76,000 windfall from the close out of a 26-year-old drainage district, but the money can only be used on Chuquatonchee Creek.

Supervisors Thursday signed off on a court order returning $344,000, minus $6,500 in legal and accounting fees, to Chickasaw and Clay counties. Chickasaw gets the lion's share at 77.48 percent, but Clay supervisors were happy to get any money.

Clay County's share is $76,005, board attorney Angela Turner Ford said.

"We'll take whatever we can get. Just bring it home and then we'll figure out how to divide it up," said District 3 Supervisor R.B. Davis, who, along with District 4 Supervisor Shelton Deanes will have most access to the funds because the creek runs through their districts on its way to Tibbee Creek.

The money has to be used for channel improvements in the creek or on roads and bridges going over the creek.

Deanes noted he already has some ideas in the Brand-Una area where large trees have fallen into the creek.

The money stems from a long-forgotten federal flood-control project that started 55 years ago and was shut down in 1992, leaving the money sitting in limbo.

In January, Clay and Chickasaw supervisors approved resolutions closing out the fund and asked the Legislature to give them permission to disburse the money.

Chuquatonchee Creek runs from Chickasaw County south into Clay County near the Monroe County line and crosses Highway 50 just west of West Point and empties into Tibbee Creek southwest of the city.

According to former Chickasaw County Chancery Court Clerk David Thomas, who has been treasurer for the program since 1992, the district was formed in 1958 to address flooding problems along the creek. A watershed work plan was approved in 1962 and in 1963, a contract was signed with the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

From 1968 to 1989, 14 flood structures were completed to maintain the channel and protect properties along the route. In 1970, a drainage tax was imposed on property owners who benefited from the work by having their land not flood.

In March 1993, the Corps of Engineers terminated the project because of water quality issues and engineering problems with the channelization, according to documents provided by Thomas.

The drainage tax was designed to repay a loan from Farmers Home Administration. The tax was discontinued in 1997.

A certificate of deposit was set up in 1971 to have a surplus fund for the district and by the time Thomas took over as treasurer in 1992, the CD was worth $192,504. It has grown to $344,000 with interest.

In the eight years after the flood control project was decertified in 1993, a variety of meetings were held with state and federal agencies trying to resolve financial issues, damages and other concerns. Finally, in early 2001, the federal government made a $13 million settlement with the district. Land owners and their heirs started getting payments in late 2001.

All the drainage taxes collected from 1970 to 1997 were refunded with interest. Almost $28,000 where heirs could not be located was turned over to the state Unclaimed Funds Division in July 2015.