Federal court may decide sand beach dispute

By Steve Phillips - bio | email

BILOXI, MS (WLOX) - The question of who controls the sand beach in Harrison County may be decided in federal court.

At issue is a dispute between county supervisors and Mississippi Secretary of State Delbert Hosemann.

As we reported earlier, a 13 page civil lawsuit was filed by Harrison County against the Secretary of State last month. There have been some recent discussions between the two sides, but still no agreement.

The dispute first surfaced when supervisors began to implement a "bidding system" for beach vendors. That's something both supervisors and Secretary of State support.

"We're working towards I think really a common goal, which is to bid the sand beach vendors, like we do all the other 16th section land in Mississippi. And that's appropriate. It's transparent. Everybody knows what everybody's doing. And I think we'll end up doing that," said Secretary of State, Delbert Hosemann.

But when Secretary Hosemann tried to assert authority over that bid process, supervisors said "hold on."

"Traditionally, the county has always controlled the beach as far as vendors and maintenance. And I think that's the crux of the matter, whether we continue that or not," said Marlin Ladner, the president of the Harrison County Board of Supervisors.

It's more than "tradition." The county contends it was given authority by a federal court ruling 37 years ago.

Joe Meadows is the attorney for the Board of Supervisors.

"Back in 1972, the federal court entered an order giving the board of supervisors certain responsibilities with regard to the beach; maintenance, taking care of it, assuring public access and that sort of thing. And that order is still in effect. Never been repealed," Meadows said.

From the outside, the dispute seems to be a classic power struggle between Harrison County supervisors and the Secretary of State. WLOX News asked the secretary if that's an accurate assessment.

"You never want to get in a power struggle with the Board of Supervisors. They really are where the rubber meets the road. So, no, I don't think that's the case at all," said Secretary Hosemann.

"My position is, I think this needs to be settled once and for all. I think we need to determine whether the Board of Supervisors is going to administer the sand beach, as we have traditionally, or whether the Secretary of State's office will," said Supervisor Ladner.

No hearing date has been set for the federal lawsuit. Both sides say there's still a chance they can reach an out of court settlement.

©2009 WLOX. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.