Sardis Lake Property

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Lake residents want answers about land swap

By Billy Davis

The news that 2,000 acres of Sardis Lake property could be transferred to the City of Sardis has raised some eyebrows, and produced some questions, among the locals of the Cole’s Point community.

“The public’s eyes are slowly opening,” said one resident, referring to the February 6 story in The Panolian that described the planned transfer of Upper Lake acreage.

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The story, in summary, is that Sen. Roger Wicker’s office is helping Sardis acquire the 1,000 acres the city currently leases from the U.S. Corps of Engineers for the Sardis Lake Marina. An adjoining 1,000 acres would also be given away, all of it for residential development.

A spokesman for Wicker’s office said the senator is working for the property transfer to encourage economic development around the lake.

At Grumpy’s convenience store, where a dozen or more lake-area residents meet in the mornings to swap stories and tell tales, the main question is how the United States government can give away land.

“Who has the authority to turn the land over to the City of Sardis?” asked Sardis Lake resident Mark Shuford, known by some as an unofficial leader in the Grumpy’s group.

“What people want, it seems to me, is more information,” said the Rev. Terry Floyd, pastor of First Faith Baptist Church, located at Cole’s Point.

“Secondly, they want to know if they have any recourse if they don’t like it,” he added.

Floyd, who lives at Cole’s Point, said he has offered the church as a meeting place for a community meeting. But such a meeting would need to include Wicker and Sardis public officials, not just Sardis Lake residents, he said.

Shuford also has a second question to ask: why is the 1,000 acres of leased land posted to the public?

In January, The Panolian reported that Sardis considers the 1,000 acres posted property. A pair of gates, one on 4-H Club Road and the second on Blackjack Road, prohibit vehicle traffic into the land. Yellow posted signs, nailed to trees, prohibit foot traffic.

A spokesman for the Corps, quoted in the January story, said the public should have access to the property. But the story also quoted Sardis Police Chief John Still saying the police department would enforce the posted signs until told otherwise by the Corps.

Sardis’s posted land has drawn the attention of pastors within the Panola County Baptist Association, the assembly of the county’s Southern Baptist churches.

A 200-acre camp currently leased by the association cannot be posted, said local pastors, despite the obvious risk of vandalism to the property.

“What we were told is we can post signs that say ‘Registered Guests Only,’ but we can’t post the land because it’s public property,” said the Rev. Courtney Selvy, the association’s missions director.

Selvy said the Baptist association holds a 25-year lease on property that was at one time a Girl Scout camp. The association must pay $2,100 to the Corps to keep the lease, he said.

Floyd sits on a committee that oversees the Baptist camp and said he has heard similar instructions from the Corps.

“We were told we can’t put up any signs – unlike Sardis,” he said. 

Sardis Lake resident Brad Parsley, who had his vehicle towed by Sardis police for trespassing (it was returned with an apology), said he has questions since Sardis has annexed the 1,000 acres of leased land.

“What I want to know is how can they annex what is government property,” Parsley told The Panolian last week.

“In the (lease) contract it says ‘United States’ over and over again,” Selvy said. “I’m waiting on my senators to give me an explanation of how they can give away what is the property of the United States.”