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New extension sought for city sewer project

Snags and holdups continue to plague a project to extend citysewer services to annexed portions of Brookhaven, but local leadershave rethought their approach and are requesting an extension forthe job’s funding.

Wirt Peterson, executive director of Southwest Mississippi Planningand Development District, told Lincoln County supervisors Mondaythe $600,000 community development block grant paying for the OldBrook sewer project expires Aug. 1. His office is seeking the job’ssecond deadline extension from the Mississippi DevelopmentAuthority.

The project has been active for almost two years, but city andcounty leaders have been unable to secure the rights-of-waynecessary for work to begin because many area landowners live faraway and are unwilling to cooperate.

“We have less than one-third of the easements,” said board attorneyBob Allen. “If people have existing water and sewer lines, then wealready have easements. But if there are no lines and they won’tsign off, we can’t do anything.”

Allen said the Old Brook area has a high percentage of absenteeheirship landowners, requiring the signatures of multiple partiesbefore work crews can begin digging on private land to installpublic services. Additionally, many landowners in the project’sarea are requesting compensation for allowing rights-of-way forpublic work, and the project has no such arrangements built in, hesaid.

Mike McKenzie, a city engineer with Williford, Gearheart andKnight, Inc., said the easement-gathering process has been furthercomplicated by an incorrect road plat, resulting in streets oftenrunning across what once was private property and not following theactual right-of-way. As a result, some landowners in the area mayactually own part of the street, while others may have flowersplanted in what they believe their yard but is actually a publicright-of-way.

That balance will not be upset, however, and the city will claim aprescriptive easement to begin working beneath the roadbed whereverit lies if MDA grants the extension, McKenzie said. A prescriptiveeasement is established by usage over time, like a common-lawmarriage is formed.

“What’s as important as anything is where the road is, not what’son a map from 50 years go,” he said. “Hopefully, within a couple ofmonths, people out there will see us dropping a backhoe in themiddle of the street and digging holes.”

The Old Brook sewer project, undertaken in August 2008, willprovide city water and sewer services to approximately 50 homes inthe Old Brook community in the southeast corner of Brookhaven’s2007 annexation. The county is funneling the $600,000 grant to thecity, which is matching the funding at 50 percent for the $1.2million project.

After two years, problems gathering easements and otherdifficulties have resulted in almost no progress on the project.Supervisors halted the job last July until the city-countypartnership was clarified to remove any liabilities initiallyplaced on the county, which is serving in no capacity on theproject other than the middleman for funding.

Working beneath the roads as a final option could get the projectrolling again, but it could also result in numerous roadconstruction headaches in the future. If the city chooses toinstall lines under the streets, those streets will have to be dugup and patched again every time a customer wants to tie into theservice.

But Brookhaven Mayor Les Bumgarner said the city would avoid courtbattles and the use of eminent domain and stay on the city’sestablished right-of-way, even if it means digging upstreets.

“There are pipes under all the roads everywhere. You just got to dowhat you got to do,” he said. “The people who still live out therehave been very involved, very cooperative, and we’re going to stayon the right-of-way.”

Once city sewer and water services are installed, use by arearesidents will be mandatory, Bumgarner said.