Beach battle, recovery top Harrison County's yearly report

By Brad Kessie - bio | email

HARRISON COUNTY, MS (WLOX) - Harrison County supervisors are hoping a federal judge will reassert their authority over the sand beach. As soon as next week, the county will file legal papers asking a judge to determine who controls the beach.

The beach became an issue late last year, when Secretary of State Delbert Hosemann said his office wanted management responsibilities over beach vendors.

At the time, Hosemann said, "We would like to participate with the board of supervisors of Harrison County in managing the sand beach.  I can't give you and would not give you the ownership to the property. But clearly, the culture of the coast comes from the determinations that you all make."

The beach disagreement was one of the issues that came up Tuesday when supervisors' president Marlin Ladner gave the state of the county address.

As he was talking, Harrison County's waterfront looked tranquil. But buried beneath its 26 mile sand beach was the brewing beach vendors controversy between county supervisors and the Secretary of State. Windy Swetman is a Harrison County supervisor.

"He should have let local officials deal with a local issue, and let that process work out," Swetman told the crowd at Harrison County's State of the County breakfast.

So far, supervisors have refused to sign a memorandum of understanding drawn up by Delbert Hosemann, because they contend a 1969 court order gives them jurisdiction over beach business.

"The Secretary of State has basically informed the board of supervisors that he'll be actively involved in the management of that beach," he said.

Other topics that Ladner mentioned during his 25 minute talk included the convention center expansion project, centralized water and sewer service opportunities for unincorporated areas, and the economic health of the area.

"Our future depends on, like everyone else, on things we really don't have control over," he conceded.

For instance, Ladner said what happens with the beach, or what happens with insurance costs, could dictate what happens to Harrison County and its $117 million budget. He's hoping the impact aids his constituents.

"We are a growing county which is obvious to anyone," said Ladner.

What's also obvious to the supervisors' president is the recovery pain Harrison County is still feeling. He pointed to his own district as an example of a community with hurricane scars that just don't seem to be healing as fast as he would like.

"If you drive into that area, especially the Henderson Point area, you can see the storm," he said. "You can see the affects of the storm still there, it was so devastated. And we're making tremendous efforts to clean that up."

Here are a few of the board accomplishments Ladner mentioned during his talk. He said Harrison County had spent two million dollars in recent months to pave roads. It's spent nearly a million dollars to upgrade the technology in its courthouses. It's also come up with a plan to build two new justice court buildings, and two new fire stations. And in the last two years, Harrison County has issued almost $400 million worth of construction permits to homeowners and business operators.