May 21, 2019 10:14:48 AM
Oktibbeha County is moving along in discussions with several property owners to acquire needed easements to begin a road improvement project along Blackjack Road.
Supervisors discussed the matter in executive session for about a half-hour at Monday's evening meeting. The discussion involved Chris Latimer, who regularly serves as the city of Starkville's board of aldermen attorney. The county enlisted Latimer to help board of supervisors' attorney Rob Roberson in obtaining the easements earlier this year.
While the supervisors took no action upon returning to open session, Roberson told The Dispatch after Monday's meeting the board asked Latimer to continue discussions with owners of three apartment complexes owners who have not yet granted the county easements so the work on the road project can begin.
Oktibbeha County has plans to rebuild and expand a portion of Blackjack Road from Bardwell Street west to Stone Boulevard. The project is a collaboration between the county, which has had $4.2 million in bond money ready to go, and Mississippi State University, which has had $3 million from the Mississippi Development Authority.
The work has, as of yet, been unable to start because the county needs right-of-way on four properties -- Campus Trails, the Pointe at MSU, Aspen Heights and a privately-owned property across the street from the entrance to Campus Trails and the Pointe.
"The board asked Chris Latimer, the attorney helping me, to discuss with the apartment complexes to go ahead and try and sign off on the easements," Roberson said.
He added that he's optimistic the apartment complexes, which he can be slow due to their corporate structure, will ultimately sign to allow the county to use the easements.
Roberson said the county has appraised the private property, which is owned by Hillen Walter Reed III and his family. The county will prepare an offer for the easement based on the appraisal.
The discussions are a continued effort for the county to avoid having to take the matter to court. Supervisors have considered initiating a "quick take" legal action, which is similar to eminent domain, to appraise and acquire the right of way through the courts.
Roberson has previously said that, should the quick take process be initiated, it could be completed by October or November at the earliest.
Oktibbeha County Board of Supervisors President Orlando Trainer said he feels the county's efforts are making progress. He said the board decided to continue seeking to get the easements, for now, rather than pushing the issue to court.
"We didn't want to do anything to obstruct or upset the progress," Trainer said. "He's moving forward with some of the recommendations on what we need to do for the next step.
"It's been a long time coming, and I wish I could tell you when we'll have them (the easements)," he added. "Sometimes the legal process can be deceptive. It can take a little longer than what you had anticipated."
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