April 26, 2014 9:58:53 PM
Despite Oktibbeha County supervisors approving funding and in-kind services to repair Mississippi Horse Park's harness racing surface and bring the venue up to U.S. Trotting Association standards, park Director Bricklee Miller says officials have not yet approved work at the Mississippi State University-owned facility.
The board authorized Mississippi Trotting Association President Eric Tinsey and two of his associates Monday to supervise the repairs, granting him up to $4,000 in funding and pledging in-kind services from the county.
Although Tinsey and his associates are not formal engineers, they have experience performing similar jobs across the nation, he told supervisors Monday.
Tinsey approached county supervisors and MSU officials with his offer to repair the track in the recent years, but all three entities failed to reach an amiable solution. MSU officials previously said liability issues exist with non-engineers performing work to the track and worked on more expensive, professionally administered plans.
"We have been in discussion with board of supervisors about repairs to the track and liability issues. No decisions have been made at this time by MSU," Miller said Thursday.
Only four sanctioned harness races were held since the park's opening in 1999. Official races were suspended after trotting association officials said judges must be able to see the entire field. Their vision was blocked by a large dirt mound in the center of the track.
A grand re-opening was held in 2008 after MSU expended $500,000 to remove the hill, but washes in the track prevent racers from using the facility.
Tinsey told supervisors he, MTA Vice President Henry McDonald and Lawrence Cooper, a Kentucky-based track manager, could oversee repairs and bring the track back up to standard for about $3,500. Because of liability issues, he asked the county to pledge equipment usage toward the work.
Cooper will specifically use his expertise to repair the track, Tinsey said. Cooper manages horse tracks, including one in Terry, and performs repairs to facilities in Kentucky, including the Red Mile, which was founded in Lexington, Ky., in 1875.
The trio could show horse park workers how to maintain and keep up the track, Tinsey said, so no further improvements would be necessary in the future.
MTA will request to hold a sanctioned harness racing event on June 1 if the track can be repaired in a timely manner. Tinsey said the event should be a considerable boon for Oktibbeha County's economy as a number of racers are expected to arrive from out-of-state locations, stay in area hotels and spend money on numerous travel expenses.
"We looked at it three weeks ago with (MSU Extension Service Associate Director) Dr. (Joe) Street to see what exactly needs to be done. We have liability insurance and accept all liabilities at the event," Tinsey told supervisors. "Half of our members are from the northern part of the state. We want to be able to share this event, especially with the prestige of the races. You guys have one of the fastest and nicest facilities in the state and even the South. People from all of the surrounding states will come over for this event."
Carl Smith covers Starkville and Oktibbeha County for The Dispatch. Follow him on Twitter @StarkDispatch
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