PASCAGOULA -- The Coast chapter of The Sierra Club has copies of what Jackson County taxpayers spent to send Supervisor Barry Cumbest to Washington to pitch the Lake George project to the state's congressional delegation.
Records show the Board of Supervisors approved Cumbest and Supervisor John McKay for the trip in late April, that the topic was Lake George and that the expense for the two of them was $1,420 -- $625 each for air fare and $170 for parking, baggage fees and taxi rides. There's no documentation for the cost of lodging.
Documents include an expense check for the $1,420.
Cumbest disclosed to the Sun Herald in mid-October he and members of his family share ownership of about 240 acres in the proposed footprint of the project -- which is 3,000 acres of twin lakes to be called Lake George, because they are primarily in George County.
The project, which proposes to dam tributaries feeding the Pascagoula River to create the lakes, is now before the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers for environmental considerations. It is opposed by organizations and people who don't want to see the river harmed in any way.
Cumbest called the Sun Herald in October with the information about land ownership because he said he wanted to be forthcoming. He is and has been Jackson County's point man on the Lake George project. The county is a co-sponsor on the application to the corps, supporting neighboring George County.
Cumbest has been publicly accused of having a conflict of interest because he is part owner of land in the project area. He said he realized he might have to recuse himself from future votes on the project because he has an interest in a portion of the land, and that land around the lake may increase in value if the project were to come to fruition.
But this week, he said he had no intention of paying back the money the county spent to send him to Washington to pitch the project. He said his portion was about $700.
When asked Thursday if he or the county had determined how much of the land near or in the project area he actually owns, he said, "No we have not.
"No one will know for sure the actual size of the lakes until the corps finishes their assessment of the project, which may be years," he said in a text.
The county's attorney was unavailable for comment on the issue.
The Mississippi Wildlife Federation and the National Wildlife Federation have joined the opposition to the lakes, submitting a letter to the corps.
And five people who oppose damming tributaries to the Pascagoula, the largest free-flowing river in the lower 48 states, briefly held up signs Wednesday at the multi-state meeting of the Gulf Coast Ecosystem Restoration Council at the Coast Convention Center.
Steve Shepard, Coast chair for the Sierra Club, said the quiet protest was to let state leaders know there is opposition to spending BP oil spill-restoration money on Lake George. Lake George has been pitched as a drought-prevention project to enhance the Pascagoula River's flow in times of low rainfall.
The small state agency officially proposing the project has mentioned BP money and leftover Katrina money as possible sources of funding what is expected to cost $80 million in today's dollars.
The signs said "Lake George is not restoration" and "No BP $ for Lake George."