City working to resolve tornado debris issue

By HASKEL BURNS,

Petal city officials are working to settle a dispute between property owners to determine who will be responsible for cleaning up some debris left over from the tornado that struck the Friendly City in January 2017.

The area in concern is a small tract of woods between the Eastbrook Commons shopping center and Mount Vernon Missionary Baptist Church, where several items such as plastic, fiberglass and tin still lay scattered about.

“There’s a dispute between the owner of the shopping center and the people who own the land that the debris is now on, over who should clean that up,” Mayor Hal Marx said. “We have contacted both sides, and we’re trying to work to get a solution to where someone’s going to go clean it up.

“Either that, or the city will have to go ahead and clean it up, and then we’ll have to charge the landowner for the cleanup.”

According to records from the Forrest County Tax Assessor’s office, several parcels of land butt up to the property where the debris is located. Those tracts are owned by several landowners, including Carl Burkett, Mount Vernon Missionary Baptist Church and Dennis Earl Rogers.

Burkett, pastor at Mount Vernon Missionary Baptist Church, declined to comment on the matter. Corey Brick, the owner of Eastbrook Commons, did not return calls for comment.

“In my mind, it’s not fair to charge the landowner (of the land) where the debris went to, because we’re pretty sure the debris was from the shopping center,” Marx said. “But the shopping center owner claims there’s no way for us to prove that was his debris.

“It just happens to look exactly like the kind of debris that was taken off of the shopping center, and I think it’s pretty clear that it was from his shopping center. But again, that may get into some kind of civic legal issue or something like that, so we’re trying to work with them and come up with a solution on that.”

Marx said there’s no timetable for the city to take action, as the matter hasn’t yet been brought up before the Board of Alderman.

“Once we decide we want to bring it before the board for a hearing, it will take at least 30 days for us to post the property and advertise it and all that,” he said. “So I know we’re not to that stage yet, so it may be a little while longer.”

Ward 3 Alderman Clint Moore said officials haven’t received many complaints about the debris, which may be because residents assume it’s from construction on the church, which was damaged in the tornado and is being rebuilt. In addition, the shopping center – which also was heavily damaged in the storm - is still in the process of moving in two tenants, at which point the center will be once again fully occupied.

“If the church was completely finished at this point, and the shopping center completely finished at this point, then people might would think, ‘Alright, let’s get a move on that,’” he said.

Moore said officials will probably allow construction to finish on the church before getting involved in the matter.

“We don’t really have a huge staff in the code enforcement office, so most of the time these properties that we assess and really push to clean up are properties that people come to us and express interest and displeasure in their current affairs,” he said. “We don’t just go out looking for properties.

“Now, being that that one is in such a heavily-trafficked corridor, once the church finishes their building project there and everything is completely back to normal – which probably is not far away – then we would definitely bring it to their attention and try and get the ball rolling on that. I don’t know who’s planning on cleaning that up, but it needs to happen obviously at some point for sure.”

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