Planning continues on lake development

Published 5:00 am Wednesday, August 15, 2001

Ideas are flowing freely about the possibilities for a1,000-acre lake now being built on the Homochitto National Forestin Franklin County.

The economic impact of Okhissa Lake on southwest Mississippi wasthe topic of discussion Tuesday during a meeting sponsored bySouthwest Mississippi Resource Conservation and Development.

United States Forest Service officials used the meeting togather information from the public and construction companyrepresentatives interested in developing the area around thelake.

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“As a true partnership, we want to build together to developsomething that will accomplish both of our goals,” Tom Christensen,with the forest service, told the small group.

The goal of the forest service is to utilize resources “toincrease sustainability of the culture by helping people understandmore about conservation,” Christensen explained.

The goal of the private sector would be to create a profitableenvironment of recreation facilities to meet customers’ needs.

“This project is a perfect match… providing quality settingsand experiences, customer service and satisfaction, emphasizingcommunity out-reach and by strengthening relationships withpartners, communities and other agencies,” said Doug Oliver,project manager. The project is expected to be finished by2003.

Oliver and Christensen explained to construction companyofficials how beneficial the lake would be to the economy, becausestudies conducted in 1992, 1995 and 2000 predict 250,000-300,000people will use it each year.

The lake was strategically placed in close proximity to manyheavily-populated cities. It rests just two hours from New Orleans,one hour from Baton Rouge and one and half hours from Jackson.

Okhissa Lake is even closer to other thriving communities, suchas Brookhaven, McComb and Natchez, so it will be a major attractionin the area.

“It will provide a mountain lake experience, which is fairlyunique in the market,” Christensen said. He described it as amountain lake because of the vast hills around the lake.

Besides being stocked with fish, Okhissa Lake will also offerwater skiing, hiking and nature trails.

Forest service officials hope to partner with a developer thatwill bring cabins, lodges, eating establishments and a marina forthe public’s use.

Three marketing studies show that such recreational activities,which are at a high demand, have the potential for $1.5-$3.5million revenue.

“The demand survey showed that outdoor recreation representseither the most important thing or one of the most important thingsin their life,” Oliver said of survey results.

Selection of a developer will be based on which company has thebest proposal showing the most profit. The partnership will be fora 30-year permit with a performance based contract.

Okhissa Lake has already drawn interest from a few nationaldevelopers that want to work with the area inside the nationalforest land area. Forest service officials also hope the lake willgenerate developments on private lands nearby.

Construction projects to enhance the lake are already beingplanned by Franklin County officials.

“The county has taken a lead by building a $1.1 million bridgeacross Magee’s Creek for access on the east side,” Jimmy Torrey,attorney for the Franklin County board of supervisors, said.

Others in the group noted that such cooperation and excitementfrom the local and state government would be necessary forsuccess.

“Projects like this are going to take a tremendous amount ofpeople working together,” said Neil Honan of a national developmentfirm.