Sardis Roadwork

Published 12:00 am Friday, October 30, 2009

Sardis residents say politics behind plan for roadwork 

By John Howell Sr.

A public meeting Monday night about proposed street renovations for Pocahontas, West Mills and East Mills Street provided a venue for residents’ accusations of years of neglect of the area by county government.

Using a slide presentation to describe drainage, right-of-way, easement and utility problems Panola County road manager Lygunnah Bean steered the agenda through questions about scheduling of the meeting eight days before the November 3 election.

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The meeting was requested by District 2 Supervisor Vernice Avant, Bean said. Avant, who was appointed to the post after the death of her husband last year, is seeking election next week to fill the late Robert Avant’s unexpired term. At least three other candidates for the post — Tim Holliday, William Pride and Johnny Salter attended along with about 20 area residents. County representatives in addition to Bean and Avant included board of supervisors president Gary Thompson, administrative assistant Bobby Jones, county worker Raymond Mickens, equipment operator Cleveland Jones and Steven Bell with county engineer Elliot and Britt Engineering.

The streets are located just outside the south corporate limits of Sardis where the Carrier Lumber Company was once located and where Martin Brothers Scrap Metal now operates.

LaBertha Hawkins said speeding traffic, scrap debris that falls from trucks bound for the scrap yard and drainage problems create headaches for area residents. “People have no respect for us because we don’t have a million dollar home,” the West Mills Road resident said.

Pocahontas Street residents Ida Dean and Frank Johnson voiced similar complaints. East Mills Street resident Bessie Bobo said that runoff from the street crossed her yard. Bobo also said that she sees indications that oil is seeping into her water supply.

“We resent the way that things have been handled,” said Elaine Holloway, another East Mills Road resident.

As the residents spoke, Bean noted concerns and arranged them by priority. The road manager used projected photographs to describe three phases of construction: 4,384 feet on West Mills Street from the Pocohontas intersection to Highway 51; 1,093 feet on East Mills Street and 2,300 feet on Pocohontas Road.

The construction would require clearing trees to allow room for ditch construction, and relocation of water and sewer lines and utility poles which have been placed adjacent to the road where ditches would have to be dug, Bean said.

“What I’m concerned about is that I’ve been living on that road for 15 years, and there’s never been anything done to it,” Pocahontas Street resident Myrt Price said. … “All of a sudden at election we get called to a meeting; now that’s an insult,” Price continued.

Price continued to question Bean about the meeting’s timing, and the financing and schedule of the construction.

Bean explained supervisors’ use of the four-year road plan that the road manager must submit to comply with state law.

“It’s a four-year plan, and we update it every year,” Bean continued.

“I have no dog in the hunt,” he said. “I’m not elected; they can either hire me back or they can hire somebody else back. … I do have a dog in the hunt when one of my bosses asks me to put together … and whether she wins or loses, she has a desire to put this in next year’s road plan.”

The road manager said that he expected the cost to the county to be $126,401.05 in materials that would come from road funds allocated for District Two. County labor and equipment would be used, Bean said, and the county would ask owners of the affected utilities to move their pipes and poles at no charge to the county.

“Right now, we’d have to get the City of Sardis, … Centerpoint, …  ATT, (Entergy) will all have to work with us to do what I’m saying. We’ve got some big issues there that we’ve got to overcome because we’ve got a lot of utilities there,” Bean continued.

All owners of affected property must give easements before the construction can begin, engineer Gray said. “We’ve run into this before, if you got a person that’s not going to sign it, that stops it,” Gray said.

The easements are expected to be 40 feet from the center of the road, the engineer said.

Notarized signatures for easements would be sought from property owners beginning next month, with construction beginning in the winter and spring and completion during the summer and fall, 2010 paving season, Bean said.

The meeting lasted two hours, punctuated with additional accusations that the meeting was politically timed and prompted primarily by a candidate’s newspaper advertisements which featured photos of the problems in the Pocahontas/ Mills Streets area.

“I want to believe you all, but my gut feeling is that this is a show,” Price said.

“I don’t have time for show,” Bean replied.

“This wasn’t addressed until it started showing up in the newspaper,” Pocahontas resident Mike Christ said.

“What made me have this meeting tonight is your requests,” Bean said.

“It is my intent,” Avant replied when Price pressed her for her word that the project would proceed.

“If you don’t have a plan then you plan to fail,” Avant continued. “The first step to doing anything is to have a plan. We have a plan,” she said.

“I’m going to hold y’all’s foot to this,” Price replied.

“We’re going to need y’all’s help getting these easements because it’s not an easy process,” Avant said as she thanked the residents for their attendance.