BY BRIAN JONES
COLUMBUS – At its Sept. 15 meeting, the Lowndes County Board of Supervisors discussed issues with the Home Project grants, possibly applying for a Brownfields grant, and held a hearing on a piece of derelict property.
[This is a continuation of my story from last week’s Packet. The first installment covered the budget hearing. This will cover the other issues addressed. – Ed.]
Golden Triangle Planning and Development District Housing Specialist Spencer Broocks came before the board to ask to close out the recent Home Project houses, sparking some complaints about unaddressed issues from the supervisors.
Broocks asked the board to approve $12,000 in administrative fees to the GTPDD. The request was approved unanimously. [District 4 Supervisor Jeff Smith originally voted against the payment, but later changed his vote to yes. – Ed.] When Broocks asked for permission to close out the project, District 2 Supervisor Bill Brigham and District 4 Supervisor Jeff Smith said they were displeased with some of the work done on the homes.
“The state has monitored the project,” Broocks said. “I’ve got a monitoring report, there were no findings.”
“Is that saying those two houses are to be accepted?” Brigham asked. “We need a little discussion on that. We talked to the homeowner, and he is not pleased. (Inspector Charlie Culpepper) went out and looked at it, and he said it has some things that need to be corrected. I’d like to get that done before we give them the money.”
“There are also things that need to be corrected at the house in my district,” Smith said.
“When doors won’t shut right, you can’t lock doors, storm doors don’t latch properly, water lines aren’t covered up, the list continues on of things that need to be done,” Culpepper said. “I have a problem with that.”
“Have you been out there to look?” District 1 Supervisor and President Harry Sanders asked.
“I have not, but I spoke to the owner yesterday,” Broocks said. “The only thing he told me yesterday was the door. He said they had come out and fixed the yard. I talked to the contractor and he said he would send someone out there to get it taken care of.”
“I know we all want to get closure on this thing, but I don’t want to close it until it’s done right,” Brigham said.
“How much do we owe the contractor?” Sanders asked.
“We don’t owe him anything,” Broocks said. “When the money came in, we had not heard from the owners and I was under the impression that everything was okay. I did not hear from the owner until last week.”
Sanders asked that the closeout be postponed until the next board meeting.
“If we table it, it’ll stay tabled forever,” Sanders said. “I just want to postpone it until the next meeting and take care of it then.”
“I know it’s not (Broocks’) fault, but as long as we’re dealing with contractors who are not bonded and licensed we’re going to have problems,” said District 5 Supervisor Leroy Brooks. “When these contractors are not licensed and bonded it’s just a disaster, and the state isn’t doing anything about it. The lowest price isn’t always the best price.”
“This program has been moved to Mississippi Home Corporation,” Broocks said. “They seem to be open to more opinions than the Mississippi Development Authority was. It took quite a while for the money to get straightened out, but now they’re concentrating on the program and what needs to be fixed in the future, if there is a program in the future. From what I understand the federal government is planning on cutting the program. It had $900 million in it last year, they’re planning on going to $60 million for the whole US. But we do not know that officially. Mississippi Home Corp is looking at different options. The staff that was at MDA has moved to Home Corp. From what I understand they’re more receptive to input.”
“The program has been good for the county,” Smith said. “The program is a great opportunity to raise quality of life. The program is a good program on its face. Every once in a while you run into a situation that doesn’t line up with what you’re trying to do.”
The board voted unanimously to postpone the closeout until their next meeting.
Broocks asked the board to consider applying for a Brownfields grant.
According to the program website, the Environmental Protection Agency’s Brownfields program “Brownfields are real property, the expansion, redevelopment, or reuse of which may be complicated by the presence or potential presence of a hazardous substance, pollutant, or contaminant. Cleaning up and reinvesting in these properties protects the environment, reduces blight, and takes development pressures off green spaces and working lands.”
“The EPA wants us to do a regional approach with Brownfields assessments this year,” he said. “The PDD has decided that we’re going to submit an application. The guidelines have not come out yet, so we’re just trying to get everything order before we get started. We’re asking the board to sign a letter of support.
“You can look at old petroleum sites, old industrial or dry cleaning sites, and the grant will allow you to go in and do a phase one environmental assessment and some phase two so that you know what kind of contaminants that could possibly be there for future industries that may come in. There are also certain instances where, if it’s county-owned property but the county didn’t contaminate it, you can apply to get a grant and clean that property up.”
“Does that to asbestos?” Sanders asked.
“It does,” Broocks said. “As long as the entity that owns the property did not cause the contamination. Any property that you might have acquired that may have some asbestos in it, you can look it. I don’t know all the ins and outs at this point, but we will find out more in the future.”
“There are several old buildings in Crawford, gas stations, old welding places,” Smith said. “Places that are completely dilapidated. Would those fall under this grant?”
“Yes,” Broocks said. “Old gas stations with ground contamination, old industrial buildings that have been abandoned. What we’d like to do is build a database of places that qualify in the seven counties we serve and just continually apply for these grants. Then we can do the environmentals and we would know just how much it would cost to clean them up.”
Broocks’ request was unanimously approved.
The board then held a public hearing on a property at 683 Beersheba Road.
“We’ve been talking about this property for about three years now,” Culpepper said. “There have been a few things done out there, but it’s pretty much the same. Sometimes there are less vehicles, sometimes there are more vehicles. Since we started this the storm came through and did a lot of damage to the house. He’s trying to get the house fixed so he can move back in, but the house is not the issue. The yard is. The vehicles have become a safety issue and a problem with traffic flow. There is also a lot of debris in the yard.”
“It looks like there are some logs and concrete slabs in the county right of way there,” Sanders said. “It’s illegal to do that. Whoever put that there is responsible for getting it off. Regardless of whether we make a finding, that’s got to be removed. I don’t think it’s the Road Department’s responsibility to pick all that up.”
“We’ve been dealing with this for three years and it hasn’t gotten any better,” Holliman said.
“I don’t know about those cars, though,” Brooks said. “If that’s a safety issue, that’s one thing, but if you just want him to move them around, put them in a row, we may not be able to do anything.”
“You could say that without him living there, and with no supervision, that car has got a window down and a kid could crawl up in there,” Brigham said.
“According to the Mississippi Code Section 19-5-105, the wording is that if y’all find its current condition is a menace to the public health and safety of the community, you can go in and clean it up,” said County Administrator Ralph Billingsley.
Owner Frank Stumpf explained himself.
“We have made some progress in moving some of the stuff,” he said. “I don’t see where the vehicles really pose that much of a nuisance or a violation. We have done a lot of cleanup. I don’t believe the vehicles prohibit anyone from seeing around the corner. The concrete, I’ve got most of that up. I thought the county would pick up the debris. That’s why I moved it out there. I knew that it could not be on our property for them to pick up the logs and the rest of the debris from the storm. They picked up some of it and told us that they couldn’t get the rest because it was too far off the road.”
“How many cars are there?” Brooks asked.
“In total, probably 10,” Stumpf said.
“What do you do with them? Are they just junk cars?” Brooks asked.
“No,” Stumpf said. “One of them is my grandmother’s Caprice. I’ve got three El Caminos. My dad loved El Caminos. They all run for the most part.”
Stumpf estimated that, of the 10 vehicles, only two don’t run.
“When you know that your neighbors are not pleased with what’s going on on your property, why would you intentionally have a place that makes everybody mad?” Sanders asked. “Do you have a dispute with any of your neighbors?”
“They’re not paying my property taxes,” Stumpf said.
“That’s not what I asked you,” Sanders said.
“I don’t have any problems with them that I know of,” Stumpf said. “For the most part, we all get along.”
“Why would you intentionally have a mess there when everyone else takes care of their property?” Sanders asked.
“I kind of like my junk,” Stumpf said. “To y’all it’s junk, to me it’s something to do when I’m bored. I love cars. I love working on cars. I like the kind of work that I do.”
“The next time you get bored and want something to do, why don’t you straighten it up?” Sanders said.
“I’ve gotten a lot of it straightened up,” Stumpf said. “We’re heading in that direction. If I had another place to go I would take them there.”
“Just line them up,” Sanders said. “Instead of being all helter-skelter out there.”
“We’re trying to be flexible,” Brooks said. “But at the same time we take cleaning up property very serious. We’ve gone in on other people’s property and cleaned them up and made them pay for it. If you’ve got the ability to line up those cars and accommodate the board then we’re going to be satisfied. We don’t take any great joy going on somebody’s property. At the same time I wouldn’t want to live near somebody who’s got stuff everywhere.”
Brooks made a motion to give Stumpf 30 days to clean up the property, and was seconded by Brigham. The motion passed unanimously.0