Panolian Editorial

Published 12:00 am Friday, August 20, 2010

Powerful Delta Council opposes Panola project

An Editorial Analysis

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By David Howell

(Editor’s note: This is the second of a series about the long-term resort project at Sardis Lake.)

For more than two decades an ambitious plan to develop several thousand acres for a resort project at Sardis Lake has been in the works. The Sardis Lake Resort Project started in the late 1980s, when the City of Sardis began preliminary studies on developing prime lake-front acreage near Shady Grove at Sardis Lake.

By 1990, the city had leased the first portion of land from the U.S. Corps of Engineers. The lakeside property would eventually harbor a marina, the initial phase of the resort project. Although it took almost 15 years, with countless hurdles, the marina opened in 2005.

Now, in 2010, with Skipper Marina Developments operating a successful marina at the lake, the focus during the last five years has shifted to the second phase of the proposed resort. This includes a plan of condos and single-family homes, an 18-hole golf course, and a hotel and conference center, in what is now a lightly populated area south of the lake.

This portion of the development will require an additional 2,000 acres from the Corps for the Sardis Lake Project. This potential transaction has attracted the attention of the Delta Council, a powerful 18-county alliance that promotes agricultural and economic development in northwestern Mississippi.

Earlier this summer the Delta Council helped orchestrate two meetings, one in Leflore County and a second in Quitman County, to question this proposed economic development project in Panola County.

Following the Leflore County meeting, held June 4 in Greenwood behind closed doors, the consensus was that “any lake development at Mississippi’s four reservoirs represents a threat to Delta flood control,” according to an article in the Greenwood Commonwealth published three days after the meeting.

The purpose of the meetings was to gauge the public opinion of the planned resort at Sardis Lake. Sources have reported that the meeting attendees were hand-picked and it is not surprising that the meeting concluded with strong opposition to the project.

The concern was that the lake development would gobble up acreage set aside to hold flood waters. This concern has prompted the the Delta Council to label the Sardis Lake Project as a threat to flood control.

There are two primary arguments that refute the concerns expressed by the Delta Council.

First, the land already leased to the City of Sardis, 1,063 acres, and a second tract of land that is currently part of the negotiations for the project, are located around Shady Cove. The land, which is located almost a mile from the levee, does not hold flood water – not even when the lake is full.

Second, there has been a huge investment of tax dollars to ensure that the resort area would be accessible and viable even when the lake is it at its lowest level. This was accomplished by dredging a portion of the lake that would access the marina located at Shady Cove. This work allows boats to access the slips at the marina year-round. Additionally a levee was constructed across Shady Cove. This levee creates a separate pool that does not fluctuate with the main lake level. This pool will give the resort waterfront property year-round.

Ironically Panola County is one of the 18 counties that encompass the Delta Council: Panola has three representatives on the Delta Council’s Board of Directors, two from the county — Will Hays II, Sledge Taylor III — and the third from the City of Batesville — Frank West.

For the project to succeed, it must continue to have Congressional and public support. We must convince the people living downstream that the project is not a threat to flood control.

Former Sardis Mayor Richard Darby was one of the early supporters of the project, working on the project at its inception back in the late 1980s. Now his successor, Rusty Dye, has worked diligently since taking office in 2005.

The county’s chief economic development agency, the Panola Partnership has had limited involvement in the project. Partnership CEO Sonny Simmons reported in a Sardis board meeting last December that the Partnership board invested $10,000 of Partnership money to do a feasibility study for the City of Sardis. The Partnership also paid airfare for a representative from the city to visit Washington about the lake project last summer.

With the county’s unemployment rate hovering over 14 percent, this economic development project could be an important project to the county and City of Sardis.

Promoting this project should be a priority for both city and county officials. However little action has been said to refute this latest hurdle from Delta officials. The time to act is now before it is too late.