Big Hills Acres wetlands problems still haunt Vancleave

VANCLEAVE, MS (WLOX) - Jesse Beasley, his wife and children have been living in a MEMA cottage in Big Hills Acres for five years.

"We got the cottage one year after Katrina and we've been in it ever since," Beasley said.

Beasley said he was told by MEMA he could buy the cottage, and he did, for $3,274.  Everything was fine until he received an eviction notice from MEMA.

"They came to us and they told us that we were able to buy the cottage for a set amount and we came up with the money and paid them, " Beasley stated.  "They brought the health department out to inspect our septic system and the inspector said it wasn't up to grade. But our septic system is working fine. We haven't had any issues."

In February of 2005, Jackson County developer Robert Lucas, his daughter Robbie Lucas Wrigley, and engineer M.E. Thompson, Jr were convicted of wetlands violations, mail fraud and conspiracy for developing the Big Hills Acres subdivision on wetlands and selling uninhabitable land.

"That soil is not capable of supporting a septic tank or an individual on site system," said Jimmy Heidelberg with the Jackson County Utility Authority.

Heidelberg said MEMA is following federal guidelines, and that's why Beasley and his family cannot stay in the cottage in Big Hills Acres.

"So the health department cannot certify that. It's a violation of the Clean Water Act to have a septic system that obviously cannot treat the sewer," Heidelberg stated.

Beasley added, "This was suppose to be alternative housing to help people in the time of crisis and not to make it worse."

Beasley works full-time at the shipyard. His wife also has a job, working the night shift.

"We're trying to find another place, but times like they are and trying like they are, it's hard to find a place,"  he said. "We're still looking and we just believe we're going to be blessed one way or another."

Help is on the way for the Big Hills Acres subdivision in the form of a $16 million project. But that help may not come for another two-and-a-half years.

"The Jackson County Utility Authority is trying our best to solve the problem that wasn't created by us, obviously," Heidelberg said. "But those things take time and they're very expensive to do. And we're trying our best so that the people out there can use that property and the environment is protected."

MEMA spokesperson Nikki Pressley said the Beasley Family has been offered other housing arrangements, but have refused those options.

Beasley said he's trying to purchase a double-wide mobile home that was foreclosed on.

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