Jackson County

Fight caps second meeting on Lake George

Video: Lake George meeting erupts into fight

Former supervisor candidate hits realtor Mark Cumbest
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Former supervisor candidate hits realtor Mark Cumbest

HURLEY -- Tempers flared at the second informational meeting on the Lake George project in Jackson County on Tuesday, and it ended in a fight.

Realtor Mark Cumbest and former county supervisor candidate Sabrina Manning Smith were involved. There was yelling. She said she was struck in the back of the head as she walked away and so "I slapped him."

Outside, Cumbest told a group he didn't realize his hand hit her.

It ended the meeting. Deputies arrived about 6 p.m.

Donna McCloud was sitting near Smith and Cumbest. She said Cumbest was standing over her, yelling. "It scared me," she said.

Earlier in the meeting Cumbest got into a shouting match with Smith's father, Eddie Manning, over how much land the Cumbest family owns within the footprint of the Lake George project.

This second community meeting was held closer to the actual site of the twin lakes than the first meeting Monday, and the questions were more urgent.

State Sen. Michael Watson, who was at the meeting, said the majority of the people there appeared to be against the project. Passions ran high several times and a representative for the Pickering Firm, which is handling the project proposal, asked county Supervisor Barry Cumbest if he was going to get a handle on the questioning. People were asking new questions before Pickering's Jeff Bellwebber could answer the previous questions.

The meeting's intent was to explain why the Lake George twin-lake reservoir proposal would be good for securing the industrial water supply in times of drought.

Earlier, Sherwin Ray, who farms 40 acres in George County, began the questioning with a litany of concerns about how the project will affect his community and the Pascagoula River.

"I already know I'll lose 10 acres to the lake, but I've had no contact with anyone," Ray told Cumbest. "They've done it by satellite."

He said the 115-page proposal clearly states some landowners will suffer financial loss. He told the group of nearly 100 residents it says there will be risks of water wells going dry, and flooded roads cutting off access to property.

"I didn't buy waterfront property," he said. "I don't want waterfront property."

He's a farmer in the Barton community. He's afraid he won't be able to get a tractor on the land that's left after the lake is built.

"It may be in a flood zone when FEMA gets through," he told Jackson County leaders.

Before Ray could get all his questions asked, someone asked from the back of the room, "Are we spending tax dollars to get a positive outcome here?"

George County and the Pat Harrison Waterway District had a state budget of about $3 million to study aspects of the project.

Cedar Creek Estates resident David Thornton said he's not opposed to a recreational lake, but he knows his property will be affected.

"We're not three miles from the flood gates," he said. "We'll be inundated if they have to open them." Big Cedar Creek runs through his neighborhood. The project proposes to dam it to form one of the lakes.

He said his biggest concern would be if the drainage basin for the lakes gets a heavy rain.

"If we get a severe storm, 10 inches on that lake -- and that's not that unusual -- and they open the gates to let water out, we'd be screwed."

Will Tilley, 18, said he just wanted to know "who wants to do this and what all the reasons are."

He said he thought there could be other solutions for industrial water needs.

People began vacating the meeting when the hostilities between Smith and Cumbest escalated.

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