PASCAGOULA -- Jackson County Board of Supervisors President Barry Cumbest said he and members of his family are among those who own land in the area of a twin-lake project called Lake George.
Cumbest told the Sun Herald he is part-owner with his family of 40 acres in George County that likely will go under water if the lakes are built. He also is part owner with his family of 200 acres in Jackson County near where the dam is proposed for the lower lake, he said. The 200 acres in Jackson County is undeveloped and without roads, he said. The 40 acres in George County are on a road, he said.
Cumbest has been the point man on this project for the supervisors, and last year went to Washington with George County representatives to seek funding for Lake George.
If the project is built, the Jackson County portion would be in his district, which includes most of unincorporated north Jackson County.
The state's Pat Harrison Waterway District applied for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers permit for the project in cooperation with the Jackson County and George County boards of supervisors.
The project cost in today's dollars, $80 million, is expected to increase the value of land around the lakes, most of which will be private.
The permit proposal offers it as a drought-control measure to help supplement the Pascagoula River during times of low flow, but people speaking for the river, including the Sierra Club, fear it will in fact hurt the river flow and risk its designation as the largest free-flowing river in the lower 48 states by volume of water.
Cumbest said while in Washington, he talked with senators about funding Lake George.
When asked if he saw his land ownership as a conflict of interest, he said, "Yes. I don't know what I'll do with that down the road. It's just kind of come up on me. I didn't pay any attention to it."
He said his family was in the sawmill business and owns tracts of timber land all around the county, some in his name and some in his brother's.
He said the lake project is in the early stages.
"It's not something that's getting ready to happen. The man at Pat Harrison said 2019 or 2020," Cumbest said. "The corps will be a couple of years just in that process, and who knows when the BP money is coming?"
Among the possible funding sources listed in the outline for the project are Katrina money and RESTORE Act money the state would receive in the BP oil-spill settlement.
Asked if he believed the value of the property would go up if the lake project turns what had been hunting land into lakefront lots, he said, "It would."
He said he didn't know if the Cumbest land would be bought out because it would be under water or part of the dam.
"The property may not be able to be used for anything," he said. "There may be the dam on that end. The people with waterfront property would be on the sides."
He said he might recuse himself from any future Board of Supervisors votes on the project.
"I'll have to address it," he said. "It may be four years down the road, but I'll have to address it."
In the meantime, it was he who set up the public open house, or information sessions, on the project in Vancleave and East Central in mid-November.
About the proposed project, he said, "I don't have anything against it. I don't see anything wrong with it right now. Some think it's great; some think it's terrible. I'll lean toward the Corps of Engineers, see what they come back with. They're the experts."