Sportsplex Issue Could Be Left To Voters

It looks like the people of Ocean Springs will get to decide the fate of recreation in their city.

A petition with more than 1,900 names was turned in at a heated Board of Alderman meeting Tuesday night. If enough of those signatures are verified, the board agreed to let the public vote on the multi-million dollar Sportsplex Plan.

The petition is meant to stop the $1.6 million purchase of land off highway 90 to build a new Sportsplex.

"I think the general opposition is the right to have a say in what's done in the city," Douglas Denehie said.

It seems many who signed the petition are unhappy that land bought in the past for recreation turned out to be unusable wetlands. They want to know why no wetlands permits have been acquired, so that at least some of the land could be used for soccer fields.

"Private developments have only taken two years on as significantly important wetlands as this is. Eight years seems like an unusual amount of time."

Others in the audience agreed. Jackson County Supervisor Frank Leach even called the Mayor to task on it.

"Stand up. Call a spade a spade, and tell this city what have you done since you were tasked by the board to accomplish the permitting of this piece of property called highway 57?"

Mayor Seren Ainsworth responded, saying, "I can tell you, this is one of the most frustrating processes that I have been through in dealing with a lot of different state and federal agencies. It's not easy."

Ward 6 Alderman John Gill wanted to use general fund money to buy the land and move recreation forward in the city. Now he says, with a pending vote, a tax increase is likely.

"That will be something that this board will have to decide on, whether it will be a tax increase or come from the general fund. My opinion is that it should come from the general fund," Gill said.

About 1,300 signatures on the petition have to be verified to meet the requirement of 10-percent of all voters. Then a referrendum on the issue will be added to the May or June ballot.

Meanwhile, the owner of the land, Charlie Carr now says he might not even sell the land because of all of the bickering and misinformation.