Future of Mississippi's waterparks, campgrounds the focus of PEER report

Updated: Dec. 27, 2017 at 12:32 PM CST
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JACKSON, MS (WLOX) - A new report says Flint Creek and the other parks run by the Pat Harrison Waterway District have enough money in the bank to remain open for another 18.5 years. Their futures beyond 2036 are the focus of a new Mississippi Legislative PEER committee analysis.

That report says two factors will determine the long-term viability of the waterway district and its parks. One factor is keeping counties in the district. Factor number two is the Lake George project.

Read the full PEER report, "A Financial Viability Review of the Pat Harrison Waterway District," here:

In recent years, five counties have withdrawn from the Pat Harrison Waterway District. That means less ad valorem tax revenue is available for the district to run its facilities.

"Declining ad valorem revenues place increased pressure on parks to become self-sufficient," the PEER report notes.

The Pat Harrison Waterway District is now made up of 10 counties. Together, they own eight parks/campgrounds and seven boat ramps and maintains seven dams in southeastern Mississippi. One of those parks is the Flint Creek Water Park in Stone County. The district also leases a park and water storage space from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.

Maintaining financial self-sufficiency, the PEER committee determined, must be the district's immediate focus.

"Adding new member counties and enhancing park marketing and advertising strategies to promote increased park utilization could potentially provide additional revenue for the district," committee members wrote in the 64-page report.

The biggest unknown going forward might be the Lake George project. That development is about halfway through a two-year analysis by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.

"The required EIS process must be completed in order for the Corps of Engineers to issue a permit to begin groundwork," the committee said.

If Lake George and a similar project in Smith County are developed, the Pat Harrison Waterway District will play a role in their long-term viability. And that's a potential red flag to the PEER committee.

"Although the lakes' amenities are expected to ensure self-sustainability, the district could experience negative financial consequences if the lakes are not as economically successful as projected," the report said.

The Pat Harrison Waterway District has parks in Lumberton, Quitman, between Laurel and Collins, near Mount Olive, along the Chunky River in South Lauderdale County, Wiggins, near Waynesboro, and near Decatur. It also has an extended lease on the recreational park and campground at Okatibbee Water Park with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.

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