Gravel Pit Appeal
By Billy Davis
Memphis Stone and Gravel Co. has filed an appeal to fight a 2-2 vote by the Panola County Board of Supervisors.
Supervisors cast their tie vote on August 10, failing to overturn a county land commission decision that denied Memphis Stone a special exception permit.
Memphis Stone is seeking to move its current mining operation and wash plant from Highway 35 to a 200-acre tract in the Eureka community.
The land commission, in a May decision, turned down the application in a 6-3 vote.
No date has been set for the hearing, which will be held before Circuit Judge Jimmy McClure in Batesville.
Supervisors, meeting Wednesday for a budget meeting, agreed to hire Batesville attorney Jay Westfaul to represent the county.
Board attorney Bill McKenzie recommended Westfaul, who has represented previous cases for Panola County government.
Court documents show Westfaul has begun responding to Memphis Stone, most recently by replying to a Bill of Exceptions, filed by Memphis Stone attorneys, which lists three reasons the court should should overturn the supervisors’ decision.
A conflict of interest?
One accusation is that District 4 Supervisor Kelly Morris should have recused himself because Memphis Stone had explored his family property for gravel.
Morris, reached Thursday, told The Panolian he was unaware he had been named in the circuit court appeal.
After reading the document, Morris said Memphis Stone had falsely alleged that he had “met with” the company and sought exploration of his property. The appeal is on file in the circuit court’s office.
Morris said the exploration happened by chance, when he saw a crew drilling on neighboring property and asked them to drill on his property, too.
“I wanted to know if I had gravel – like anybody else would want to know,” he said. “To say that I ‘met with’ Memphis Stone and approached them – that’s just not true,” he said.
Westfaul called the accusations “out of order” and “inflammatory” in his rebuttal, court documents show.
The planned gravel pit is located in Morris’ district and he made the board motion to turn down the company’s appeal.
The planned gravel truck route along Good Hope Road is located in front of Morris’ home, and Memphis Stone also alleges that Morris’ proximity to the truck route constitutes a conflict of interest.
‘No conflict of interest’
Memphis Stone’s second allegation is that Supervisor Bubba Waldrup wrongly recused himself from the board vote.
Westfaul, responding to that allegation, wrote that Waldrup was allowed by the Mississippi Constitution to “make his own decision.”
Before the board vote, Waldrup announced he would not vote because his family had once held a mining permit, which had since expired, from Memphis Stone.
A spokesman for the state Ethics Commission, contacted by the county, has said Waldrup was right to recuse himself.
A written opinion is pending from the state agency.
Some issues undiscussed
Memphis Stone attorneys, in their only reference to the land commission in court documents, claim the board failed to name and address six conditions that are used for determining a zoning allowance.
The court documents do not name the conditions, nor which ones were or were not discussed, by the commission.
At the May meeting, zoning issues such as fire safety were named as criteria to consider but fire safety was not discussed as a main concern of the land commission.
Land commissioners discussed public safety more than any other issue, zeroing in on gravel trucks that would use the Good Hope Road route. They also viewed school bus routes of the South Panola School District before voting down the permit request.