A bill passed by the state House Wednesday would transfer ownership of the lake from the Tombigbee River Valley Water Management District to Wildlife, Fisheries and Parks and allow the agency to build its district headquarters on the site.
“I think this will be a win for the sportsmen,” said Al Tuck, deputy director of Wildlife, Fisheries and Parks. “You are going to see us right there at the park. It’s going to be better fishing. There is going to be a biologist right there in our office.”
Tuck said the construction of the building will save Wildlife, Fisheries and Parks from having to pay rent in Tupelo on an office to serve as headquarters for the 15-county Northeast Mississippi district.
The 800-acre park, which includes a 360-acre lake, has been operated by various entities since its construction, which dates back to the 1960s. The lake originally was constructed as a recreation/flood control structure. At times, it has been operated jointly by Tupelo and Lee County. At other times, the Tombigbee River Valley Water Management District, which had ultimate ownership of the park/lake, has operated the facility.
But Jimmie Miller, acting executive director of Tombigbee River Valley Water Management District, said his agency had expertise in building such structures, but not in operating them.
“It (the legislation to transfer the park) is the way it should be,” said Miller, an engineer. “One state agency should not be in competition with another. We have to make the most of the tax money. It’s a win for them because they are saving on rent and they know how to operate the park. … Could you imagine an engineer dealing with fish ratios?”
The water management district is a state agency that receives tax levies from 11 counties in Northeast Mississippi to address a litany of issues, such as flood control and recreation.
In the bill, the water management district is going to provide $200,000 to the Department of Wildlife, Fisheries and Parks for the construction of the district office. The bill will not require any general fund state revenue for the construction of the building.
Rep. Steve Holland, D-Tupelo, who introduced the bill to transfer the park, said the park will not be on the same level as Wildlife, Fisheries and Parks’ state parks, such as Tombigbee or Tishomingo. Fishing, boating, picnicking and hiking will continue to be available at the park.
The Department of Wildlife, Fisheries and Parks has been operating the park in recent months under written agreement with the water management district. If the bill passes, Tuck said construction of the district office will begin as soon as possible.
The bill now will be considered by the Senate.