Booze dispute simmers in Oktibbeha County

March 17, 2009

Tim Pratt -


STARKVILLE -- Oktibbeha County Sheriff Dolph Bryan is standing firm in his stance against Highlands Plantation''s resort status as the county Board of Supervisors debates what to do about the controversial community. 


Bryan stood before supervisors Monday for the second time this month because he wants the board to ask the state to revoke Highlands Plantation''s resort status. 


Although the board didn''t agree to contact the state, it did approve a motion to allow Bryan and county attorney Jackson Brown to meet and discuss possible solutions to the alcohol-related problems the Sheriff''s Department has encountered in Highlands Plantation. 


Highlands Plantation, along with Cowbells Sports Grill, is located in Oktibbeha County, where the possession and sale of beer outside Starkville city limits is illegal, but liquor and wine are legal. Cowbells can sell beer and people who live in Highlands Plantation can possess it because the State Tax Commission has given the development resort status. 


Without resort status, Cowbells would no longer be able to sell beer and residents of Highlands Plantation would no longer be able to possess it, though liquor and wine would still be legal. And that''s what Bryan wants. 


According to Bryan, the resort status has led to binge drinking among Mississippi State University students who live in the community, and among patrons of Cowbells. Because Cowbells closes later than bars in Starkville, patrons tend to leave the city and head to Highlands Plantation for more alcohol. 


The practice lends itself to drunken driving, which ultimately leads to tragedy, Bryan said. 


"Someone is going to get killed out there," Bryan said. 




Another point of view 


Jay Bradley, who serves as president of the Highlands Plantation Homeowner''s Association, urged the board to consider alternate solutions to Bryan''s suggestion of contacting the State Tax Commission. 


"I think we can work this out among us," Bradley said. "I wish the sheriff would have came to a home owner''s association meeting, or the sheriff would have came to the owners of Cowbells and said something like, ''Hey, it''s getting out of hand,'' or something like that, because everything we''ve heard from the deputies has been, ''Hey it''s getting better,'' or ''Hey, it looks a lot better out here.''" 


Bradley said many of the home owner''s live in other states and rent out their properties. The home owner''s have as much interest in maintaining their properties as anyone, Bradley argued, and don''t want the community destroyed by drunken college students. 


"We didn''t envision the community itself becoming a drinking haven," Bradley said. 


On the other hand, the loss of resort status could lower property values in the community, Bradley warned. 


According to Bradley, the homeowner''s association would be willing to look at whatever proposal is drawn up by Bryan and the county attorney, though he made no guarantees on its acceptance. It is unclear what changes in policy could come to the community because it was the State Tax Commission who awarded the resort status. 




A blow to tax dollars 


District 2 Supervisor Orlando Trainer sided with Highlamds Plantation, although he acknowledged how important safety is on his list of priorities. Trainer feels a revocation of the development''s resort status would be detrimental to the tax base of Oktibbeha County. 


But Bryan stood firm. 


"I know it may have some repercussions with taxation, but I don''t know how we can equate the safety of these students at Mississippi State," Bryan said. 


According to Bryan, the sheriff''s department responded to 198 incidents in Highlands Plantation over the past year. He acknowledges not all of the incidents were alcohol-related, but said drinking in the community has caused "a very dangerous situation." 


"Take beer away from them and we control them," Bryan said.