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Okhissa Lake work ahead of schedule

BUDE — Construction at Okhissa Lake appears to be ahead ofschedule and still going strong as favorable weather continues insouthwest Mississippi.

“We’re real pleased with the progress. We had a good spring, sothe rain hasn’t slowed us,” said Ray Oliver, chief inspector forNatural Resources Conservation Service.

A critical part of the 1,000-acre lake on the HomochittoNational Forest is the construction of the dam, which will measureabout 700 feet wide at the base and 243 feet elevation.

Ray said the dam construction has gone very well and is abouthalf finished.

The dam construction is vital because engineers must make surethe dam holds water and does not leak. To ensure the dam’sstrength, several layers of clay, sand and dirt have been carefullylaid to control absorption of water.

Over 40 people, including 20 local residents, have been workingalmost every day with dozens of types of heavy machinery tocomplete the dam.

“We’re ahead of schedule and still projecting a completion dateof next spring or next summer as far as the dam is concerned,” saidDistrict Ranger Gary W. Bennett about the $8 million project.

While the NRCS works on the dam, the United States ForestryService has several projects that are beginning to cometogether.

Biologists and other experts have been creating a plan forproviding fish habitat in the lake since 700 acres of it will beused primarily for fishing.

“We’ve been calculating where to put structures for the fish,”said Bennett. “We want it to be perfect because we’re going tospend almost a quarter million dollars just on fingerlings to stockthe lake.”

Okhissa Lake, which should be open for fishing in late 2004 orearly 2005, will consist of channels, ledges, trees and spawningareas.

Forestry officials are also working on creating a relaxing andfun atmosphere around the lake for family outings.

“We’re looking at building campgrounds, cabins, a lodge and sometype of marina,” said Bennett. “The two primary boat ramps and onebeach are being designed now and we’ll build them next year.”

Forestry officials have also met with the Mississippi Departmentof Transportation about constructing roads around the lake.

A unique power source is also in the works for the areasurrounding the Okhissa Lake. The plans include having all powerlines run underground, which could cost over $1 million.

“The whole intention is to make the visitors feel like they’reon a lake in the forest with all the conveniences of being intown,” said Bennett.

The entire project will take the help of private investors tocomplete, though. Bennett said his office is trying to talk withlocal investors about helping fund the lake, wchihcould have a bigeconomic impact on the area.

“We’d like to have a consortium of local investors so we cankeep the money in southwest Mississippi,” he added.

Local senators and representatives have offered much support,thus far, in securing federal funding, but more funds are needed,said Bennett.

Anyone wishing to watch the construction of Okhissa Lake may doso from an observation area that consists of a large gazebo andwalking trails on a ridge.

The area is located on the closest gravel road south of theHomochitto Work Center on Highway 98. Signs have been placed alongthe gravel road to help motorists find their way.