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Eagle Lake flood meeting draws a packed house

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A standing-room-only crowd of at least 150 people packed out the Eagle Lake Methodist Church meeting room Saturday to get an update on the potential of floods in 2020.

Officials from nearly every Mississippi governmental agency that has a role to play in flood control and prevention were on hand, including a representative from Lt. Gov. Delbert Hosemann’s office, Andrew Yang, and State Rep. Kevin Ford (R-Vicksburg).

Among those making presentations or available to answer questions were Mississippi Emergency Management Agency Director Gregory S. Michel, Warren County Emergency Management Agency Director John Elfer, Warren County Sheriff Martin Pace, County Fire Coordinator Gerald Briggs, Peter Nimrod with the Mississippi Levee Board, and Drew Smith with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.

The Warren County Board of Supervisors were on hand and when announced, the supervisors received a round of loud applause from the crowd.

“All five of us are here to let you know this new board is listening, ” said District 4 Supervisor Jeff Holland during the question and answer period.

Holland addressed the need for better communication between the various governmental entities and the public. When queried about debris removal, Holland deferred to District 1 Supervisor Edward Herring who told the crowd that bids had been received Friday and he anticipates awarding a contract Monday. The terms of the agreement will call for one contractor to remove and properly dispose of the debris from the structures that were torn down after the 2019 floodwaters receded.

Michel spoke to the fact that Warren County Emergency Management is the conduit to his agency as well as state and federal resources. He encouraged residents to form a committee or group to manage flood resources and to choose an incident commander. He also stated that his agency has various levels of training available. Michel said that there are additional funds available for flood-fighting equipment that were not available in 2019.

USACE Vicksburg District Commander Robert Hillard, Engineering and Construction Chief Henry Dulaney, Project Manager Kent Parish and Water Management Chief Kent Smith all addressed the gathering.

The speakers all pledged their help for 2020. Smith outlined the current levels and predictions. Currently, theYazoo Backwater forecast is predicted to crest near 93.2 feet, putting 376,000 acres underwater in the Mississippi South Delta. The Steele Bayou Structure gates, which were holding in all that water, were reopened Sunday morning.

For the people at Eagle Lake who were traumatized by months of flooding in 2019, many were looking for a fix that can happen quickly to avoid a repeat of the devastation of last year. The bad news is that even if the proposed pumps are approved by Congress today, it will take at least four years as the original plan would have to be reworked based on recent data. Dulaney stated that when approved, the very best Corps employees from across the nation would be involved in the planning and design phase, and Hillard agreed that Corps resources would be made available if needed.

Nimrod addressed the possibility of placing some form of water control mechanism in the Brunswick levee near the northern end of the lake. He and Rep. Ford and others are researching the option to see if it is feasible from a cost and engineering perspective.

No additional meetings are scheduled at this time. With spring approaching, normally a rainy season, all eyes will remain on the lake and river levels.

Thomas Parker contributed to this report.

Crime

Vicksburg Police arrest two juveniles for auto burglary and shots fired; incident report for Feb. 22 to Feb. 23

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Officers with the Vicksburg Police Department arrested two juveniles on charges of attempted auto burglary and shots fired on Saturday.

Police were called to the El Paso Mexican Grill (3419 Pemberton Square Blvd.) on a shots-fired call on Feb. 22, at 8:30 p.m. The complainant said he caught the two juveniles trying to break into his car.

They ran toward the mall and fired three shots as they ran away.

Police arrested both juveniles, and they are currently in the Warren County Juvenile Detention Center.

Vicksburg Police responded to two calls of auto burglary on Sunday, Feb. 23.

  • At 8:16 a.m., officers responded to an address in the 600 block of Belva Drive where the victim stated someone went into her 2005 Toyota Camry and stole a Tommy Hilfiger Bag containing $600 cash, social security cards and birth certificates. The vehicle had been left unlocked.
  • At 8:20 a.m., officers responded to Ameristar Casino, 4146 Washington St., where the victim stated that someone stole his state tax refund check out of his vehicle.

Vicksburg Police officers also responded to three calls of shots fired from Friday, Feb. 21 to Sunday, Feb. 23. Officers found no evidence of shots fired at any of the calls.

  • Friday at 8:39 p.m., officers responded to the area of Rosedown and Alma streets.
  • Sunday at 3:30 a.m., officers responded to the area of Fayette and Locust streets.
  • Sunday at 3:37 p.m., officer responded to the 7000 block of Farmer Street.

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Crime

Vicksburg PD has captured third suspect in Feb. 8 Irene Street shooting

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The Vicksburg Police Department has captured Deontre Smith, 19, who was wanted for aggravated assault in connection to a shooting that occurred Feb. 8  on Irene Street in Vicksburg’s Kings community.

Sebastian Davis, 48, was shot once in the lower left abdomen, according to police at the scene, and was transported to the University of Mississippi Medical Center in Jackson.

Police arrested Kenan Kenneth Jackson, 17, and Carissa LaShae Branch, 22, the same day as the shooting, charging them both with aggravated assault with a firearm, attempted aggravated assault, shooting into an occupied dwelling and shooting into an unoccupied vehicle.

Kenan Kenneth Jackson and Carissa LaShae Branch (photos via VPD)

Smith will be housed in the Madison County Jail until his initial appearance in Vicksburg Municipal Count on Wednesday, Feb. 26.

 

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Insurance Commissioner advocates legislation to fund First Responders Trust Fund

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Mississippi Insurance Commissioner Mike Chaney

From Mike Chaney, Mississippi Insurance Commissioner and State Fire Marshal:

When I consider some of the most important jobs a person can hold, firefighter quickly rises to the top of my mind. Firefighting, for some, is a profession: a noble one that requires time, physical strength and stamina. For others, it is a voluntary service to their community and neighbors, still strenuous and demanding. Police officers and other first responders hold equally important jobs in our communities.

In 2019, I proudly supported the passage of the Mississippi First Responders Health and Safety Act to care for first responders with occupational cancer and other diseases caused by their job. There are nearly 17,000 firefighters in Mississippi. Of those, around 13,000 are unpaid volunteers. It seems only right that we care for the men and women who have cared for us, risking their lives to save others. Now, nearly a year since its passage, we must consider how to fund this important program.

With Senate Bill 2302, I am proposing an amendment to existing law that would divert a portion of the surplus lines fees currently collected. Surplus lines fees are collected from non‐admitted insurance carriers in the state. Surplus lines fees generate between $12 and $14 million in revenue annually. Amending current law would guarantee money for firefighters through the Mississippi First Responders Health and Safety Trust Fund.

Benefits would be paid to fire and police officers who have 10 or more years on the job. The law allows for a $35,000 lump sum benefit if diagnosed with metastasized cancer or terminal cancer and a $6,250 lump sum benefit if diagnosed with non‐metastasized cancer.

I also propose diverting a portion of fees to fund the Rural Fire Truck Fund. Since the Rural Fire truck program’s inception in 1995, the State of Mississippi has paid out more than $47 million to help counties buy fire trucks. The program is estimated to have saved homeowners more than $1.6 billion since the program began. This program has put more money into consumer pockets than any tax cut ever will.

My proposal also calls for a portion of the surplus lines fee to fund fire prevention and education through the State Fire Marshal’s Office. Fire safety educators in my office visited more than 70 schools and educated more than 3,000 children and adults in 2019. I can only imagine the number of lives that would be impacted and saved by our educators if the proper funding was in place.

A portion of the diverted fees would also be paid to the Comprehensive Hurricane Damage Mitigation Program. I am particularly motivated to fund such a program after visiting with poultry farmers. Poultry is one of the leading industries in our state, valued at nearly $3 billion. There are more than 1,400 broiler farms and hundreds of layer farms – yet these farmers are paying increasingly high premiums for insurance on their chicken houses. Only a small number of insurance providers are willing to write coverage for poultry farms, largely because of the expensive replacement cost for destroyed or damaged poultry houses. The Mitigation Program would give farmers a better chance at a successful business by funding improvements to their poultry farms.

There is a common misconception that funds paid into the wind pool are assessed from policies only on the coast. That is incorrect. Approximately 60% of the fee is collected on policies written outside the coastal counties.

At this time, the wind pool has approximately $280 million in surplus, positioning it well to handle the next big storm. Moving a small percentage of the surplus lines fee funds would benefit everybody, from Desoto County to the Gulf Coast.

Senate Bill 2302 is making its way through the legislature now, and I urge lawmakers to pass this bill. My proposal would not take money from the general fund or adversely affect other programs. This takes politics out of the funding for fire protection, storm mitigation and caring for our heroes.

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