By CARL SMITH
Supervisors expressed their desire to keep the Oktibbeha County Lake as a functioning, public arena Monday during a work session with the Oktibbeha County School District Board of Trustees.
Mississippi Department of Wildlife, Fisheries and Parks vacated its facilities located at the lake’s campground area last month after the agency did not renew its 16th section recreational land lease with the county school board following a reappraisal of the land’s value. The entire 16th section’s 642.52 acres, including the 407 acres of lake and campground facilities involved in the MDWFP lease, were reappraised at $100 per acre, which would greatly eclipse the previous $2,500 minimum annual payment.
Mike Ainsworth, a 16th section land manager, said there is no current deadline for proposals. Once a deadline is set and met, the board can accept the highest and “best-use” bid.
When Oktibbeha County Board of Supervisors President Marvell Howard asked Ainsworth if an individual or group potentially could turn the area into a private lake, Ainsworth said that issue is something the board and lessee would have to work out.
“A written proposal will be specific (about area usage),” Ainsworth said. “If (a person or group) violates it, then they’re in default of the agreement and the lease is canceled.”
Following the work session, District 1 Supervisor John Montgomery said the lake needs to remain open to the citizens of Oktibbeha County no matter who takes up the lease.
“That’s our county lake; that’s where people go to spend their weekends, fish and camp. It’s almost become a tradition in a sense,” he said. “Bottom line: It needs to be a public lake.”
At the conclusion of the work session, Ainsworth said he believed only one bid has been submitted. There is no exact timetable for finding a new lease holder, he said, but the process is moving as fast as possible.
“The school board needs to see proposals,” he said. “Based on who comes forward, it needs to see who has the credentials to write the check (and assume the lease).”
Local architect Robert Ford submitted a proposal to the county board of education 7:30 a.m. Monday, a time he said he believed was the deadline for submissions. Ford said constructing money-making facilities, such as a restaurant and motel with resort status, would bring extra funds to the county education system. The lake, he said, would remain open to public use.
“I think the county lake is for all of us — anyone should have access. I own property on the south side of the lake, and I sit out and drink my morning coffee while looking over it. It’s essential to make it available to everyone,” he said. “Having a small motel on the edge of the lake would provide a place for those who want to come in and have a nice weekend, and having resort status at a restaurant would allow you to have a glass of wine with a nice dinner.”
Ford declined to comment on the price of his submitted proposal due to the ongoing nature of the process.