No right, no way
By Marty Russell
Work on the continued four-laning of Mississippi Highway 6 will be delayed at least four to five months and perhaps longer while right-of-way acquisition continues and because a water association says it can't afford to move its lines from the path of the new roadway.
State Department of Transportation officials originally had set a goal of beginning construction on the next seven miles of the new highway this month. But Lockett Peyton, MDOT's right of way division chief, said continued negotiations over right of way and allowing relocated residents time to build or find new homes has pushed the start of construction back to the spring of 2002.
"We're probably looking at February letting a contract on that," Peyton said. "We're down to eminent domain work and we've got 11 or 12 displacees out of a total of about 32 trying to get moved and building houses."
About 100 pieces of property were affected by the route of the new highway. MDOT set up a local office and began acquiring the properties in October of 2000 and had hoped to begin construction this month.
But Northern District Highway Commissioner Zack Stewart said another potential obstacle to a spring start date on construction has emerged because a rural water association is refusing to pay the cost of moving its lines from the path of the new highway.
"We've got a real problem," said Stewart, who said a more likely start date for construction now would be March of next year. "We've got a rural water association that it's going to cost about $28,000 to move some water lines, and they're pretty adamant they're not going to move them."
Stewart said the state legally can't pay for the relocation of the lines since the lines are on state right of way.
"We can relocate lines on private property but this stuff is on public-owned property. They're there by permit only so they have to move them at their expense," he said.
Zebede Prude, president of the East Pontotoc Water Association, said his utility doesn't want to stand in the way of the highway but simply can't afford to relocate the lines.
"I would love to see the highway come through," Prude said. "But the bottom line is, we don't have the money."
He said the association has had a rate increase within the past year and currently has an application pending for a federal loan to fund a $1 million system expansion after failing to obtain any grants for that expansion.
"A lot of people don't want another rate increase," Prude said, noting that a rate increase will be required if the association's loan is approved. "We're overloaded as it is now. We don't have the money."
Stewart said the total cost of relocating East Pontotoc's water lines is estimated at $280,000. But Paul Swindoll, MDOT's district engineer on the Mississippi 6 project, said all but about 10.4 percent of the water association's lines are on private property and the state will move those lines.
The 10.4 percent remaining on public property would cost about $28,500 which the state contends must be paid by the water association.
"The association has to bear that expense," Swindoll said.
Swindoll said more negotiations are planned with the East Pontotoc group but said the group's refusal to move the lines could further delay the four-laning of Mississippi 6.
"In other areas of the state, I've seen it put off projects for a couple of years," he said.