Recently, a crappie fishing buddy of mine called to express his dismay and disappointment that the one ramp on The Rez he is able to use had been closed.
“Paul, did you know they closed Pine Tree Landing?” he asked. “Darn thing’s got a locked gate across the road with a sign on it that says, ‘No fishing — private property.’ Private! Dammit, how’s that possible?”
By the end of his exclamation, Larry’s voice had hit the high range in both volume and pitch. He was upset, and, frankly, knowing Larry’s situation, my immediate reaction was outrage, as well.
My friend, Larry, lost one of his legs several months ago, and he is trying his best to maintain some sense of normalcy by continuing to crappie fish on Barnett. Pine Tree Landing fit his boat, trailer and handicap just fine; it was the only ramp on the whole reservoir where he could get in and out of his boat without assistance.
For whatever reason, he was calling me to try to get his answers and encouraging me “to do something about this.” I tried to explain to Larry that I couldn’t do anything that he couldn’t and that I had no special powers or political clout or sway with anyone. I expressed my regret for Larry’s personal situation, and agreed that I’d look into it.
I drove to Pine Tree and, sure enough, the once-free public landing was gated off.
Pine Tree Landing is located in the upper end of the Rez across the road from the much larger and more popular Highway 43 boat launches. Sunset Marina currently operates a boat sales and repair business plus the marina that most folks call Safe Harbor.
I stopped at the south end of the boat dealership — the service department area. I found a couple of fellers working behind the counter and asked them if they knew why the boat ramp was gated off.
“Yeah, bud, the owners of the marina have gotten a new lease for this whole peninsula,” one told me. “They’re planning to build cabins and camper spaces and expand the marina. They are already building the camper pads next to the water with power, water and sewage. Things are a’changing round here.”
I called two people who I thought could give me some insight into how this privatizing of the public reservoir was possible. Bobby Cleveland, who works for the Pearl River Valley Water Supply District and writes for this magazine, answered my inquiries politely and informatively.
Basically, Bobby told me that PRVWSD owned the Rez and was charged by the Legislature to operate in a self-supporting fashion so no support from local or state taxes would be needed. They were charged with generating enough revenue to cover their costs, and a large portion of their revenue comes from leasing reservoir-owned property to homeowners and commercial businesses.
Bobby explained that Sunset Marina had renegotiated and broadened its lease with PRVWSD to include commercial use of the whole peninsula including Pine Tree Landing.
“As the lessee, Paul, they make the call on how to best utilize their leased property,” he said.
I appreciated the straight answers and professional attitude Bobby presented. He was empathetic, too, with my one-legged buddy’s issue.
“Paul, tell your friend to try the new handicap ramp across the road at Highway 43,” Bobby said. “He may not know we recently made that whole area over there handicap-ready.”
I then called Brian Broom, outdoor editor for the Clarion-Ledger. He didn’t answer at first. I left a message, which he later returned.
When he called back, Brian basically confirmed what Bobby had told me.
Geez, it’s nice to have buds who are smarter than me. Didn’t take but two five-minute phone calls to guys in the know to get a quick lesson on how the Rez is run.
I called my one-legged buddy, Larry, to tell him what I’d learned. I thought both of us kinda agreed there wasn’t a darn thing we could do about Pine Tree Landing being closed.
I moved on.
A day or two later, while I was enjoying fishing on the state’s largest private lake, the phone rang. It was a fisherman from Kosciusko whom I’ve never met.
“Paul, I hear you know some stuff about the Rez and the closing of that landing down there,” he said. “Can you fill me in on what’s going on?”
“You know Larry, uhh?” I said.
“Yep,” the guy responded. “He called me yesterday and said that you were starting a movement to get that ramp opened back up. I’ve called to tell you I’m in. Tell me what’s going on. How can I help?”
So I told the gentleman the same thing that I had told my buddy, Larry. And I spoke very plainly when I said that I was not “starting a movement.”
“Well, hell, I know the governor,” he said. “Maybe I’ll just go to him.”
“I’ll tell you what: When I get off the lake today, I’ll take a couple of hours and research the reservoir and the PRVWSD,” I promised. “But I’m telling you now from what I learned from a couple of really smart people who are in the right places to know what they’re talking about that everything is on the up and up — it’s all legal, and leasing property has been done on the Rez for decades. Talk to the governor; he’ll tell you the same thing, I’m sure.”
From basically an afternoon of research, here are the highlights of what I learned about the governance, control and administration of the Rez. Went online to pull up the info — you can, too. I found the research to be very interesting and informative.
First of all, did you know that the Rez is celebrating its 50th anniversary this year? That’s right: 50 years ago, the Rez was opened to the public. Originally, it was going to be named the Pearl Reservoir. Hey, that would have been neat. “You headed to the Pearl to fish today?”
Twenty-two million dollars in bonds were bought by the tax payers of five counties most impacted by the Rez. The bond purchase was overwhelmingly approved by the voters of Hinds, Rankin, Madison, Scott, and Leake counties 10 years before the Rez was opened to the public.
Today, PRVWSD has a book value on the Rez of more than $47 million.
The reservoir, the water in the reservoir and the land within a quarter-mile perimeter around the entire lake are owned by a Governmental Component Unit of the State of Mississippi—Pearl River Valley Water Supply District.
Interestingly, before the Rez was ever built — in 1958-59 — it ended up in court. Somebody sued somebody. The appeal made it to the state Supreme Court. The Rez won. One of the justices opined the following: “We cannot assume in advance that the board will abuse its power by reselling land for private instead of public use.”
Uhmmm, now that’s interesting — and that was from one of the six justices who ruled in favor of the new Pearl Reservoir business plan. As I read it, this particular Supreme Court judge was presuming that the new Pearl Reservoir was being built for public use and not for facilitating private commercial enterprises.
Wonder how he’d feel about Pine Tree Landing being closed by a private business?
In fiscal year 2014, the district (as they call themselves in their annual financial statements) garnered nearly $5.48 million in revenue from 6,300 residential and commercial leases. Their profit increased almost 300 percent from $156,522 in fiscal year 2013 to $622,109 in fiscal year 2014.
Hey, that’s a good thing, isn’t it? If they’re covering their expenses with their current income stream, maybe we won’t see any more ramps closed.
Say, I’m thinking of building a bed-and-breakfast lodge on the Rez. Need enough property to expand when I build my restaurant and motel. Need boat landing with parking facilities. The Brown’s Landing area would be great.
I’ll take the whole area from the Highway 43 entrance to the water’s edge. Need that high spot where the current pavilion is now for my lodge.
What’s it going to cost me? Give me a price. We gotta start the negotiations somewhere.