Proposed highway route threatens homes

By Sylvia Hall - bio | email

LATIMER, MS (WLOX) - It's not something you'd expect to see on a map.

"Here's the street in front of her house," said Raymond Reynolds of his stepdaughter's house.  "This is the proposed four-lane road. And here's their house, dead center in this road."

The road is a proposed route for a new Highway 15, that would connect with Highway 57 just north of Vancleave and continue north to U.S. 98.  It's called Alternate Route C.

It's one of two routes the Mississippi Department of Transportation is currently studying for the project. The other one, Alternate Route B, runs along the current MS 15, and stretches along a new road to U.S. 98.

Alternate Route B touches on land owned by Camp Shelby and the Forestry Service. Southern District Highway Commissioner Wayne Brown said it would be very difficult to acquire the permits necessary to cross through that property.

Alternate Route C runs through the tight-knit Latimer community and crosses several homes.

"I can't believe it," said 18 year-old Natalie Ramsay, whose family just moved into a new house in the proposed highway's path. "You would never think that that would happen to you or your family."

Ramsay is worried she's going to lose her new home if the highway runs through Latimer.

"My mom and dad have worked so hard for this, and it's being taken away," Ramsay said.  "And it makes me think, Do these people actually care about what they're doing? Or do they just worry about making money or having a road put through?"

Reynolds' home wouldn't be directly affected, but he believes his step-daughter's home would have to go.

"They feel defeated," Reynolds said. "Its very discouraging to know that they want to put a four-lane road right through the middle of our quiet little community."

Another resident, Lori Massey, said she doesn't understand why the route is being considered because she believes there are too many sensitive wetlands in the area. More than anything, she's concerned about her community.

"The biggest thing they're going to destroy is our quality of life," Massey said. "Many of our families in Latimer have lived here for generations. We hand down land and the next generation builds."

Residents are ready to fight the proposed route. They've put up signs along the proposed path and in front of homes that could be in jeopardy. They're also circulating a petition that already has 1,000 signatures.

Brown said the two routes currently being studied probably won't be the only two studied.  Brown said a lot of factors go into the decision-making process.

"The preferred route has a lot to do with the people, what the people want," Brown said.  "It has a lot to do with environmental considerations, it has a lot to do with safety."

He said he invites input from the community. The Mississippi Department of Transportation has already held forums in several South Mississippi communities about the project.  They are planning more later in the year, including one in Latimer.

"I encourage people to come out and let your voice be heard," Brown said.  "Because we don't pick a route, we don't have a preferred route. A preferred route will evolve from the process."

Brown said MDOT is considering drawing a third route that would run just north of Latimer to connect with Hwy 57. He said he expects the decision-making process to take up to a year.

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