By Jeremy Pittari, Item Staff Writer
The Picayune Item
Tuesday’s Picayune city council meeting featured a presentation by Mississippi Transportation Commissioner Tom King who stopped by to share an update about upcoming highway projects.
The meeting also showed one council member believes two districts are left out when it comes to how money is spent within the city.
King said the U.S. Highway 11 widening project is still on schedule, with 31 parcels to acquire and 11 appraisals to complete. Only one piece of property has been acquired so far. So long as MDOT can avoid a lawsuit King believes the project should start on schedule, in late 2016.
King said just one lawsuit could push the project back by at least a year.
The project entails widening U.S. Hwy. 11 from the entrance of Hide-A-Way Lake to the Hobolochitto Bridge. King said when complete, the newly four-laned highway will be an economic boost for Picayune that will help the city create new jobs. A portion of the project will include implementation of a divided median, in lieu of a turn lane, particularly from the entrance of HAWL to the intersection of U.S. Hwy. 11 and Mississippi Highway 43 North.
District Engineer Kelly Castleberry said there are some issues that will need to be worked out, such as encroachment on existing MDOT rights of was by some properties along the work route. Letters have been sent to the owners those properties, who will need to fix the issue.
Once the contract is let the project is expected to begin in November or December of 2016, and will take about two years to complete, Castleberry said. Another contract is expected to begin at about the same time, and will involve work to the U.S. Hwy. 11 bridge that crosses Hobolochitto Creek. Hydrologic surveys are currently underway for that project, and once it begins, the project will also take about two years to complete.
In other business the council appears to be dividing on issues where one council member believes things are unfair. Council member Larry Breland began to address his concerns when the matter of trip to Washington, D.C., came up. The matter attempted to determine which council member would accompany the mayor on the trip.
Prior to Breland addressing his concerns, the council attempted to decide which one of the five council members would accompany the mayor to the nation’s capital. Council member Wayne Gouguet nominated council member Jason Todd Lane to go, but Lane declined. Gouguet then said he would be willing to go. No other member volunteered to go.
Breland then spoke on his concerns with the process, saying the council should have been given more time to consider who would be going, and that he thought maybe more than just two representatives should take the trip. The council approved Gouguet accompanying Mayor Ed Pinero Jr. on the trip.
The second and last item the council became divided on was the use of capital improvement funds to make drainage repairs to a feature along the Monroe Branch that was causing a homeowner’s foundation to sink. Public Works Director Eric Morris said the home was about 70 inches from the drainage feature, and subsurface leaching was causing sediment to erode from under the foundation of the home and cause damage.
While she said she did not intend to be contentious, council member Lynn Bogan Bumpers brought up a drainage need in her district, an area where she wanted the public works department to cut down tall grass to dissuade snakes from coming onto residential property. Morris said while he will have his crews attend to the area, there are many areas in the city, especially in the newly annexed areas, that need attention. However, the erosion of subsurface soils from this one home is causing major damage and is a priority that needs to be addressed.
Morris said the problem has been going on since the 1980s and has gotten to the point where her driveway and concrete slab for the carport have begun to sink.
After Morris described the urgency of fixing the problem, Breland said he believes the city has been able to find money for certain projects, but not for others. He compared his observation of the council’s spending procedures to that of deciding if a family should have beef or pork for dinner. He feels the council needs to be fair to everybody within the city.
Breland also pointed out that there are more open ditches and drainage issues in districts two and four than any other district in the city. Morris agreed there may be more open ditches in those two districts, but said he could not agree that districts two and four have more drainage issues.
Breland then wanted to amend the motion to state that the funds for the repair work would come from the general fund, but City Attorney Nathan Farmer pointed out there was already a motion on the floor. Lane said that the money to do the work will come from the sale of some land the city used to own, so it would be unnecessary to use general funds.
The council took a vote and unanimously voted to do the work.
City officials will place signs through the city soon to promote awareness of the city’s 311 program. City residents with non-emergency matters can inform the city of those problems by calling 311, and a computer system will automatically log the matter into the city’s system. Morris said on busy days the city receives as many as 70 calls, or tickets, while on typical days it averages about 25 tickets. Soon, 14 signs advertising the service will be placed on major roads throughout the city.
In other business the council announced the areas recently annexed into the city limits will now enjoy a lower fire rating of 8 to 6. The lower the number, the better the rating and the better the discount city residents receive on fire insurance rates.
The next scheduled meeting of the council is Feb. 19, at 5 p.m.