County nets $750K in BP settlement funds for Longview Road

By: 
Ryan Phillips
SDN Editor

Oktibbeha County received some welcome news on Wednesday when state lawmakers came to an agreement on how to dole out $700 million in BP settlement money to close out the special legislative session.

Of the 128 earmarked projects, Oktibbeha County will receive $750,000 for improvements to Longview Road, according to State Rep. Rob Roberson, a Republican from Starkville who represents parts of Oktibbeha and Winston counties.

However, just how that money will be applied to the county’s infrastructure woes is still a matter of debate.

“There are other projects that hopefully we can get taken care of in the future if I can get some road ready, but that’s the only road as far as the county is concerned where we’re ready to move forward with it,” Roberson said on Wednesday.

Roberson also serves as board attorney for the county Board of Supervisors, and has had a front row seat to concerns held by residents of Longview Road.

BP has agreed to pay $750 million in damages to Mississippi through 2033, following the 2010 Deepwater Horizon oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico. According to a report from the Associated Press, state lawmakers have already shelled out $52.4 million of the money, but nearly $100 million is sitting in the bank, with 15 yearly payments of $40 million a year set to begin in 2019.

Roberson said 75 percent of the BP settlement funds will be distributed to counties along the Gulf Coast, while 25 percent was earmarked for projects around the rest of the state.

“The main thing, had they split it up equally, we wouldn’t have gotten more than I was able to pull out,” Roberson said. “It’s one-time money, not something that will be reoccurring, so hopefully we will be able to get more projects in our area. Right now, I was pretty happy to get a decent project that we obviously are going to have to still put money in with Longview Road, but it gives us a better starting point than we had.”

He did say he was disappointed that the city of Starkville did not see any BP funds earmarked, but said he was pleased overall with the funds the county did receive.

Across the Golden Triangle, Lowndes County came out as the biggest winner in the region, netting $1 million for the construction of Charlie Ford Jr. Drive. Choctaw and Webster counties will be given $250,000 each for repairs and resurfacing, while the city of Houston in Chickasaw County is set to receive $300,000.

West Point and Clay County, however, will not be receiving funds from the BP settlement, which disappointed area legislators.

State Sen. Angela Turner-Ford, a West Point Democrat who represents parts of Clay, Lowndes, Noxubee and Oktibbeha counties, was one of eight senators who voted against the final version of the settlement bill.

“Given the nature of a lawsuit, considering the lawsuit involved punitive damages, filed on behalf of the state by the attorney general, it seems to be a windfall to those counties that make up the coastal region,” Turner-Ford said. “I’m not sure it’s a fair allocation of funds received. I’m hoping somewhere in the future the legislature can revisit it.”

State Rep. Cheikh Taylor, a Democrat from Starkville who represents parts of Clay, Lowndes and Oktibbeha counties, voted in favor of the settlement bill and said each issue discussed during the special session, including the BP settlement, deserved a special session of its own.

He did, however, say the economic hardships caused by the 2010 Deepwater Horizon spill reached far past the Gulf Coast.

“Rob Roberson did an excellent job negotiating things and we are going to be better for it for 15 years to come,” Taylor said. “We’re going to have money in our area for at least 10 or 15 years, we’ve done some great things and made some landmark high notes.”

COUNTY OFFICIALS REACT

While the end result will see the settlement funds spent on Longview Road improvements, the application of the funds remains a matter of debate.

And even with the $750,000 infusion, and the extra $652,233 the county can expect annually in four years or so once it starts collecting from internet sales tax diversion, the funding will still come up short to complete the Longview Road project quickly.

According to District 4 Supervisor Bricklee Miller, the cost of improvements to just the two ends of Longview Road would total roughly $2 million on its own, with the total estimated cost of the project coming in at $5 million.

While Miller mentioned that the county could apply the BP settlement funds to a bond payment and avoid raising taxes, others believe taxes will inevitably rise if the county wants to address its most pressing infrastructure issues.

“We need to raise taxes anyways and will have to address (the infrastructure issues),” said District 2 Supervisor and Board President Orlando Trainer. “I don’t know how the funding will come down, but we have one project, that’s been Longview Road, and we probably need $3 million or better.”

Trainer said the BP settlement money will “go a long way” on the Longview Road improvement project, but said the county would still need additional funding and will need to look at another bond issue.

“We did a good thing with the (last) bond issue but weren’t able to address everybody,” Trainer said. “We’re proud of our local delegation and excited about the return on that."

Miller provided another alternative, though, that she said could keep the county from having to raise taxes.

She said if the $750,000 could be used for bond payments on the partial paving of Longview Road, the project would carry a $2.5 million price tag.

“It would get the majority of citizens on the road out of the dust and allow the county to see if the federal funds will be allocated for the remainder of the project before raising taxes to finish,” she said.

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