Forgotten drainage program could be windfall for county

Staff Writer

A long-forgotten federal flood-control project that started 55 years ago and was shut down 25 years ago could provide a small financial windfall for Clay County.

Supervisors Thursday approved a resolution officially closing out the Chuquatonchee Consolidated Drainage District and splitting the $344,000 that remains in its reserve funds between Clay and Chickasaw counties. The resolution has to be approved by the Legislature.

Under the formula, Chickasaw County will get 77.48 percent and Clay County 22.52 percent of whatever is left after legal and related expenses. That's expected to be somewhere between $50,000 and $70,000.

The money will have to be spent on channel improvements or roads and bridges related to the Chuquatonchee Creek which 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.

"We've got to keep up the channel and the bridges but who knows how much money we'll get and when," Supervisor Shelton Deanes said. "It sounds like a lot of money, but cleaning out log jams gets expensive.

"But anything we get is better than nothing. Every little bit helps," added Deanes, whose district includes part of the creek.