Gravel Pit Appeal

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Judge turns down gravel pit appeal

 By Billy Davis

The 10-member Panola County Land Commission had the legal authority to turn down the permit request of Memphis Stone and Gravel Co., according to a judge’s ruling released last week.

Circuit Judge Jimmy McClure, in his 10-page order, turned down Memphis Stone’s appeal to Mississippi’s 17th District.

Sign up for our daily email newsletter

Get the latest news sent to your inbox

The gravel company, after losing in circuit court, is expected to file an appeal with the Miss. Court of Appeals.

Memphis Stone attorney Pat Lancaster said late Monday he has not reviewed McClure’s decision and hence could not speculate about the company’s plans.  

Memphis Stone wants to operate a gravel mining operation on a 200-acre site in the Eureka community.

The company had sought a special exception permit from the land commission but was turned down. An appeal to the Board of Supervisors ended with a 2-2 tie, which meant the land commission’s decision stood.

McClure, at a September 1 hearing, heard arguments from Lancaster and Jay Westfaul, who represented the Board of Supervisors.

A third attorney, John Lamar, was excluded from the hearing. He represents a group of Eureka residents who oppose the proposed mining operation but had not filed court briefs that showed he was participating.

McClure, at the hearing, heard Lancaster suggest that supervisors should have decided the appeal. But the circuit judge, quoting from Panola County’s land-use rules, wrote in his order that the commission has the power to “hear and decide special exceptions.”

“The Court finds that this means the Commission has the power and duty to decide special exceptions but this decision can be appealed to the Board of Supervisors,” McClure wrote.

McClure also shot down Lancaster’s suggestion that the land commission should have considered all six of the criteria it uses to decide zoning matters.

The land commission considers factors such as traffic hazards, fire hazards, or a change to the neighborhood, among others.

McClure wrote that any – not all – of the factors could be considered by a public board. He cited two court cases, both from DeSoto County, and quoted from a Panola County zoning case in which the Miss. Supreme Court had already ruled on the matter.

The state court had stated that the county ordinance “does not require that all factors be demonstrated, as indicated by the word ‘or’ in the factor list,” McClure wrote, quoting from Thomas vs. Board of Supervisors of Panola County.

Memphis Stone had also argued that Supervisor Kelly Morris should have recused himself from the board vote.

Memphis Stone had once drilled on Morris’s land to find gravel, at Morris’s request, and Lancaster noted that the expected travel route passes in front of the supervisor’s home on Good Hope Road.

McClure cited a pair of court decisions, from Biloxi and Olive Branch, and wrote that Morris did not have a financial stake in the decision and was not required to recuse himself.

McClure also observed in his ruling that Memphis Stone had objected to evidence that attorney Lamar presented to supervisors. Memphis Stone had originally presented “similar information” in front of the land commission, which the judge described as “ironic.” He did not cite examples in the ruling.

The judge also wrote that a circulated petition, which Lancaster had questioned at the hearing, included the names of people who traveled in the Eureka area, not just those who live there. Lancaster had said some signers lived outside the community, making the document questionable.