Creek work sparks dispute over bill

 Supervisors Shelton Deanes and Lynn Horton look over the area where work on a creek has sparked a controversy. Southern Roofing is in the background.
Staff Writer

Sixty feet of dirt work and brush removal has Clay County and a local businessman at odds over who should pay for the work.

Southern Roofing owner Joe Smith asked county supervisors Monday to reimburse him the $600 he paid a friend to clear a clogged culvert under West TVA Road beside his business. Smith said the clogged culvert forced all the water from the small tributary through the other side. During heavy rains, the force of that water washed over the banks onto the foundation of his building and is eroding the creek bank, eating away toward his property.

He appeared before the Board of Supervisors at their Aug. 10, 2017, meeting to discuss the problem. It happened to be the same day the Tombigbee River Valley Water Management District was giving its annual report.

District 1 Supervisor Lynn Horton, in whose district the business is located, promised to get the TRVWMD, which handles drainage problems, recreation and conservation in 12 counties where creeks and streams feed the Tombigbee River, to look at the situation.

But nothing has happened so Smith took it upon himself to have it fixed. That prompted some sharp words from Horton during Monday's meeting.

"It wasn't like an emergency. That's not our policy, not the way we don things," Horton said at the outset of the Smith's request of the board.

"I gave you the land for the culvert in the first place. I expected it to be maintained," Smith said of the concrete box culvert which was built as part of a state-aid bridge program. "You're obligated when things don't get done."

Board Attorney Angela Turner-Ford intervened to ask questions and suggested the matter be tabled so she could study the issue and develop findings for or against paying the bill. That will include having County Engineer Bob Calvert look at the site.

After Smith left, the discussion continued later in the meeting.

"It was disrespectful to me for him to go out and hire someone and not call me. It was nonsense really...all he had to do was call me, but don't come back and hand me a bill," Horton told other board members.

"If we start doing that, we'll have everyone in the county doing stuff like this. Trust me, what he had done you'd laugh at," he continued.

Turning back to legal requirements, District 2 Supervisor Luke Lummus said the county did have some responsibilities.

"If it drains off a county or state road onto someone's property, it can be our problem," Lummus noted.

After the meeting, Horton and District 4 Supervisor Shelton Deanes inspected the creek.

Horton said he would contact the Tombigbee River Valley Water Management District about the situation to see why nothing had been done. Even with the work for which Smith paid, the two said it appeared the agency would have to clear more of the channel upstream and remove rip-rap from the creek bed and install it along the bank on Smith's side of the creek.

The two also wondered outloud why the business was built as close as it is to the creek.

The TRVWMD handles projects in Alcorn, Chickasaw, Clay, Itawamba, Kemper, Lee, Monroe, Noxubee, Pontotoc, Prentiss and Tishomingo counties.

Turner-Ford said she hoped to have some clarification and possibly a recommendation at the board's Feb. 22 meeting.

In other business, supervisors approved the county's annual $30,000 contribution to the West Point-Clay County Growth Alliance to lease The Ritz Conference Center and keep it open. It's the second year of a three-year contract to keep the busy center operating in downtown. The city also contributes $30,000 a year.