JACKSON COUNTY -- The Sierra Club asked members of the Jackson County Board of Supervisors to withdraw their support for the Lake George project at Monday's board meeting and got nowhere.
Two other people asked supervisors if they knew Board President Barry Cumbest stood to benefit when they gave the project Jackson County's official support. Cumbest's family owns about 240 acres in the foot print of the project, and Cumbest was one of the supervisors who went to Washington looking for money to fund the project.
Supervisors made no promises, defended their decision and said that knowing Cumbest had land in the project area would not have kept them from signing on to support it.
To build $80 million Lake George, contractors would dam two tributaries to the Pascagoula River near the Coast, flood 2,900 acres and create two lakes. The project is being pitched to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers as a way to enhance the flow of the Pascagoula during drought.
Steve Shepard, Coast chair for the Sierra Club, also asked the board to quit giving $300,000 a year to Pat Harrision Waterway District, the small state agency proposing Lake George. Shepard called it a "dam-building organization that's not interested in saving the Pascagoula River."
Shepard asked that Jackson and George counties learn to "enjoy the streams they have" and quit looking for ways to spend money on artificial lakes.
Shepard said the message was confusing during the election. He said Supervisor Troy Ross, for example, "acts like he's against it, but he signed the resolution supporting it."
Shepard also pointed out that the project grew in size and expense in the last 1 1/2 years.
"It was one lake a year and a half ago and 500 acres," Shepard said. "Since you guys went to Washington, it became two lakes and 2,800 acres."
He urged the board to "stop wasting people's money" and protect the Pascagoula River, the largest free-flowing river in the lower 48 states.
Supervisors made no qualms about continuing to support the project. Several said it would be the Corps of Engineers that would decide if the damage to the river outweighs the benefits.
Cumbest indicated there is no urgency. The project is a long way off, he said, it could be two years before the Corps even completes the environment impact study.
Supervisor John McKay said he didn't know Cumbest owned land in the project area when they signed on to support it, "but it wouldn't have mattered .... They own land all over this county."
When McKay said that, the crowd at the board meeting, most of them retirees from the county hospital system, made a noise of disapproval.
Supervisor Ross told the group it would be unethical to know who owns land around a project before he votes on it. He also said he doesn't believe the project will come to fruition, because it's too expensive.
Supervisor Melton Harris said it's better not to know who owns land.
"Every time a project comes up, we don't go look to see who owns property," Harris said. He said, if he found out a friend owned property involved in a project, he might want the friend to benefit, so he'd rather not know.
Harris also said the Lake George project "has a long way to go before it becomes a reality. The concept is all we're looking at ... lets explore that."
The county is also holding open house meetings on the issue. In Vancleave on Monday night and on Tuesday from 4-6 p.m. at the East Central Community Center on Mississippi 614.