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City of Brookhaven chooses temporary fixes for Oak Hill

Oak Hill subdivision residents say proposals to address a failing road in their neighborhood are only temporary, and though they’re pleased the city is offering to help, they want a long-term fix.

After an executive session the night of April 25, the Brookhaven Board of Aldermen dispatched a letter to the Oak Hill Homeowners Association offering limited solutions for the failure of a drainage pipe threatening to split Oak Hill Drive, proposing only to remove dirt over the pipe, install traffic cones or other warning devices and close the lane nearest the eroded area. Seventeen Oak Hill homeowners responded with their own letter on April 30, thanking aldermen for getting involved and accepting all the proposed measures while calling on the city for permanent repairs to the problem.

“We’re very appreciative for their consideration to help,” said Beck Warren, an original member of the Oak Hill HOA. “They have indicated some temporary solutions that can help alleviate some of the immediate safety hazards, and we look forward to working with them as they provide a permanent solution to the erosion problem.”

Aldermen are communicating to homeowners through attorneys and letters, and being careful in their responses because the Oak Hill HOA is challenging the city in court over ownership of the neighborhood’s roads.

The city claims the streets are private property because they were never properly dedicated to Lincoln County before the area was annexed, and the board is refusing to order the kind of street maintenance normally performed on public property. The city’s letter to the HOA focuses on the lake and spillway and potential public safety hazards that could result from a spillway failure — it barely mentions the road, except for proposals to block off a lane — and asks the HOA for “clarifications as to the actions or assistance you are requesting,” reinforcing its view that Oak Hill streets are private property.

Oak Hill residents say their streets are public by prescription, pointing out county supervisors previously worked on them and added Oak Hill Drive to the county road registry in 2003. They are also asking 4th District Judge Wayne Smith to name their roads city property based on a $27,000 overlay to Oak Hill Drive performed by the city in 2011.

The HOA also wants the city to set aside the legal battle and repair the spillway under Oak Hill Drive because of the downstream damage that could result from a lake failure. Homeowners there cite a state law that allows cities and counties to cross onto private property and take necessary measures to prevent public safety hazards, but an April 24 inspection by the Mississippi Department of Environmental Quality’s Dam Safety Division said there was no imminent danger.

But without repairs, the erosion will slowly continue until the pipes and road fail.

“We’re 18 inches from the road right now,” Warren said.

Aldermen were correct to meet in executive session on April 24, as state law allows public meetings to be closed to discuss matters involved in litigation. The court case between Oak Hill and the city is ongoing in Walthall County.

The following day, Ward 6 Alderman Shelley Harrigill discussed the road and spillway issues at Oak Hill with The Daily Leader and said aldermen were looking for the “best way to address it so it doesn’t become a dangerous situation.”

Her comments were misinterpreted as the city’s willingness to repair the spillway to avoid a public safety hazard when, in fact, aldermen continue to view Oak Hill streets as private property and are unwilling to perform road repairs there. The original story based on those comments, “City of Brookhaven seeks go ahead for Oak Hill work,” was published on April 26.