| Presley laid to rest with full honors
| Pam Cousar, mother of slain U.S. Marine Brandon Presley, accepts the flag that draped the coffin of her son from his commanding officer, Lt. Col. David Ottignon.
Presley was buried in Magnolia Cemetery with military honors Thursday, December 22. He died December 14 from wounds inflicted when a suicide bomber triggered a car bomb near his vehicle. He is the second Iraq War casualty from Panola County.
Other family members seated include (from left) his grandmother Mary Frances Woods, Cousar, step-father Joe Cousar, brother Colin Hawkins and grandmother Mary Presley.
| By Billy Davis
Like the saviour he followed, Michael Brandon Presley loved and adored children.
In the classrooms at North Delta School, Presley would often surround himself with grade-school children, sharing with giggling youngsters the beaming, infectious smile he shared with everyone who knew him.
"It was a beautiful and rare quality in a teenager, to enjoy the company of children like that," said North Delta administrator John Howell Jr., speaking Thursday morning at the funeral service for the U.S. Marine corporal.
While stationed last year in Japan, Howell said, Presley described in letters to Howell how sorrowful he felt for Japanese children affected by powerful typhoons that swept the country.
In the war zone of Iraq, where a car bomb would take his life near the city of Fallujah, Presley shared snacks from home with Iraqi children.
"He sacrificed his life for children," Howell said, "my children, your children, and children in a foreign land."
Howell and others who spoke at the December 22 service for Presley stressed that the young Marine died a hero’s death in an ongoing war that one day will produce democracy in the theocratic Middle East.
"We are fulfilling a purpose greater than our own. We know our cause is just," Marine Lt. Col. David Ottignon, Presley’s brigade commander in Iraq, told grieving family, friends, and classmates at Calvary Baptist Church.
Presley, a 2002 North Delta graduate, was mortally wounded Monday, December 12, while a passenger in a Humvee. He was flown to a military hospital in Germany, where he died Wednesday, December 14. He was 21.
When he was wounded, Presley was convoying supplies to a combat outpost in Fallujah, the brigade commander told mourners.
Presley was part of a Marine Expeditionary Force, where he was assigned to 2nd Combat Engineer Battalion, 2nd Marine Division.
After the memorial service at Calvary, Presley was laid to rest in Batesville-Magnolia Cemetery.
Mourners lined the route down Keating Road and Highway 6 East to show support for the young Marine’s family and friends.
"He was a real hard worker," said Keith Heafner, speaking to The Panolian at the grave site. "I was glad for him to call me ‘Uncle Keith.’"
Rev. Gerald Hodge, Presley’s pastor in New Albany, told mourners he recalled seeing the story on Fox News telling of two Marines who were wounded while Iraqi citizens were voting to elect members of parliament.
"I never dreamed one of two Marines would be from North Mississippi or especially a member of Hillcrest Baptist Church in New Albany, Mississippi," Hodge said.
Hodge compared Presley’s death in combat to the Old Testament account of David’s victorious confrontation with Goliath, the towering Philistine soldier and an enemy of Israel.
Retelling the story of David bringing supplies to his brothers in the army, the pastor recalled how David was dismayed that the army did not stand up to the giant and fight him.
"Goliath had blasphemed God and blasphemed their nation, and every day he took a step closer to their camp," Hodge said. "And finally David asked, ‘Is there not a cause?’ A generation from now, in the history books, young men and women will see the cause that Brandon gave his life for."
A Marine Corps chaplain speaking at the service compared Presley to Lt. Waverly Wray, the Panola County native and World War II hero and D-Day veteran who died in combat.
In the sanctuary of the church, friends and family remembered Presley with momentos that included a football championship medallion, school photos, and messages signed by his North Delta classmates.
"We will always miss you," one student wrote. "Semper Fi."
"Semper Fi," a Latin term, is the motto of the U.S. Marine Corps and a shortened form of semper fidelis.
"Semper fidelis" means "always faithful."
| Cities, county post closings
| County and municipal officials have announced closings for the upcoming holidays, as well as changes in garbage collection schedules.
Panola County government
The county courthouses in Batesville and Sardis will be closed Friday and Monday, December 23 and December 26, for Christmas.
The courthouses will be closed Monday, January 2, for New Year’s.
Because of the holiday schedule the county’s garbage pick-up will operate one day behind for two weeks, beginning Tuesday, December 27.
Tuesday customers, for example, should put out their cans for pick-up on Wednesday, December 28.
In the City of Batesville, city employees will be off work Friday, Dec. 23 and Monday, Dec. 26 for Christmas and Monday, Jan. 2 for New Year’s.
Garbage collection in the city will be one day behind schedule.
The City of Sardis will take Friday, Dec. 23 and Monday, Dec. 26 for Christmas and Friday, Dec. 30 and Monday, Jan. 2, for New Year’s. Garbage will be collected Tuesday and Thursday those weeks.
The newspaper office will be closed Friday, December 23 and Friday, December 30.
| Gas prices likely steady over winter
| By John Howell Sr.
The management company hired by the City of Batesville to manage the purchasing of natural gas for the city-owned gas distribution utility told the mayor and aldermen Tuesday the present prices should hold through the winter.
Howard Randolph and Beverly Comeaux Utility Management Corporation told the city officials that gas purchased at today’s prices during peak demand is over $15 per mcf. The premium fuel is mixed with stored gas purchased at $8.85 per mcf.
"On a cold day we pull your storage gas and blend the less expensive gas and try to hold your rates where they are today," Randolph said.
Comeaux had said in November that prices to Batesville gas customers should remain at the levels reflected in that month’s gas usage.
Randolph also said that Batesville’s natural gas that goes unaccounted for is less that one percent. The consultant explained that gas unaccounted for escapes through leaks in the system.
"Y’all certainly have the best ‘unaccounted for’ of any municipality in the state," he said. Some "unaccounted for" rates run as high as 10 percent, Randolph added.
Ward One Alderman Bill Dugger, who retired after a long career with Tennessee Gas Pipeline Company, said, "That’s a big thing with them, too," referring to the gas that is unaccounted for. Dugger commended the one percent "unaccounted for" rate, noting that the "unaccounted for" rate shows "if we have leaks."
City officials complimented gas superintendent William Wilson for the low incidence of leakage in the system.
| MDOT plan for bypass route grabs landowners’ attention
| By Billy Davis
After viewing a map Tuesday of two proposed routes for a Batesville bypass, Sallye House came to a conclusion: neither path makes her happy.
House’s mobile home is located in the middle of Greenbriar subdivision, which is itself sandwiched between the two proposed routes that swing south of Batesville.
"I’ve lived there 14 years after moving from Batesville, and I love it because it’s country living," House said. "Now it feels like there’s nowhere else to go."
Mississippi Department of Transportation officials unveiled their bypass plans Tuesday evening at the Batesville Civic Center, where a steady flow of attendees viewed maps and learned that MDOT favors a bypass rather than widening Highway 6 West.
The bypass routes are Alternative "C" and Alternative "B," both stretching about 10 miles south of the city.
The option to widen Highway 6 is Alternative "E."
With "E" out of the picture, MDOT officials said Tuesday they prefer "C" to "B," though the public hearing Tuesday was meant to gauge the public’s reaction to that plan.
"This is a comment period, and we’re encouraging people to tell us what they think during the next 10 to 15 days," said MDOT district engineer Jimmy Dickerson.
MDOT officials "take very seriously" the comments they receive from the public, Dickerson said.
Batesville bypass construction is tentatively planned to start in 2010, Dickerson said.
If state officials choose the bypass, both alternate "B" and "C" would take the same route from Hwy. 6 East to Interstate 55, crossing Eureka Road at Will Road and continuing to a new interchange on I-55 between Eureka and Shiloh roads.
Traveling west from Shiloh, the bypass routes differ.
"B" would go west toward Highway 35 with the interchange near Shiloh, crossing northwest through Farrish Gravel Road and tying into Highway 6 west of North Delta School.
While also crossing I-55 near Shiloh, "C" would cross Highway 51 just south of the Pope-Courtland water tower and travel through an interchange located between existing highways 51 and 35.
From there it would cross existing Highway 35 near First Assembly of God Church, also crossing Farrish and back into Highway 6 near North Delta.
The "C" plan would include a new, relocated Highway 35 route.
The coming Batesville bypass will unfold as part of a long-planned project to widen two-lane Highway 6 between Batesville and Clarksdale.
MDOT also plans to construct a three-mile bypass near Marks, improve the railroad overpass in west Batesville, and improve the antiquated cloverleaf at Hwy. 6 East and I-55.
While stores along Highway 6 West will now keep their parking lots, MDOT officials Tuesday also said they still plan to overlay the highway.
"We’re going to pretty it up," one official told a gathered crowd.
In addition to those projects, a much larger project will also unfold in the coming decades west of Panola County: Interstate 69, which will stretch 1,600 miles from Canada to Mexico when completed.
The future presence of I-69 through the Mississippi Delta is expected to bring heavy traffic through the Batesville/Highway 6 corridor, especially commercial trucks, making traffic improvements to Panola County an essential part of the future I-69 plan.
"Establishing better east-west travel across Highway 6 is important to the state, and I-69 is a reason for that," said Northern District commissioner Bill Minor, who attended the hearing.
While many homes are in the path of the "C" route, many more homes seem to fall in the path of the "B" route, approximately 40 homes near Shiloh Road and 30 homes near Audrey and Hardy roads.
Both bypass routes affect lots of homes in the Shiloh community, said Carl Brown, who pastors a church there and attended the Tuesday event to view maps of the proposed routes.
"Both proposals affect my church members, but the second proposal will take out a bigger section of their houses," Brown said. "I’m in favor of the first proposal."
| Curtis residents go another round over rubbish proposal
| By Billy Davis
Residents of the Curtis community once again declared their opposition to a proposed rubbish pit during a public hearing Tuesday night in Batesville.
More than 50 residents attended the event at the county courthouse, where they peppered Jackson attorney John Brunini with questions about health issues and demanded that the process come to a halt.
A rubbish site by definition accepts bricks, mortar, lumber and other construction materials.
Brunini, who moderated the hearing, told the crowd he was hired by the Panola County Board of Supervisors to work with the Miss. Department of Environmental Quality (MDEQ) to help Panola County government attain a solid waste plan per state requirements.
Panola County supervisors James Birge, Robert Avant, Jerry Perkins and Bubba Waldrup were present at the meeting, though they allowed Brunini to field questions from the audience.
Not until after the hearing did supervisors address the crowd, namely when Avant told residents that he personally opposes the rubbish pit.
Avant represents the Curtis area as the county’s District 2 supervisor.
"I’m against it, and I’ve been against it since day one," Avant told Maxine Thaggard, a Curtis resident who criticized the board of supervisors during the hearing.
Speaking to Brunini, Thaggard complained that the process has dragged on for several years with no clear end in sight.
"How many times do we have to fight this battle?" Thaggard asked.
The reason for the hearing, Avant told her and others, was that MDEQ required the public hearing to gather opinions from the community.
Following the public hearing, Avant said the next step in the process is to send the county’s solid waste plan to MDEQ, with or without approval by the supervisors for the Curtis site.
Because of the county’s land-use ordinances, county supervisors have the last word on whether to allow the site to become a rubbish pit.
The county’s land development commission has already refused to allow the site to be used for rubbish.
Reached Wednesday, Avant further explained that the county’s proposed solid waste plan is entangled in a lawsuit filed against Panola County by owners of the site, the Jim Thomas family.
The family has since leased the site to Archie Dowdle.
Reached Wednesday, Lent Thomas Jr. said the process to open the rubbish site has been a "real confusing deal" after supervisors first cooperated with his family more than five years ago.
"We spent a lot of money out there, then they decided they didn’t want it when people started raising sand," Thomas said.
Thomas also said supervisors have told him in past months that they plan to approve the site as a rubbish site.
According to Avant, he changed his mind about the proposed site after MDEQ officials told him they could not guarantee people’s safety.
"I asked MDEQ to assure us of no pollutants and they said, ‘No, we can’t do that.’ That did it for me," Avant said. "There are lots of houses and elderly people out there, and the water table is shallow."