Choctaw Plaindealer

Supervisors Revisit Lake Project, Request Federal Funds

By Amy Stewart Cagle

The Choctaw County Board of Supervisors desires federal funds for the undertaking of a feasibility study for a multi-use surface water impoundment. A request made through the office of U.S. Senator Roger Wicker, as part of the Fiscal Year 2023 Congressionally Directed Spending Requests, seeks $55,000 for the lake project study.

This is not the first time Choctaw County supervisors have pursued the opportunity to build a lake in the county. The board focused its energies on the studies for the project in the mid-2000s. Funds for an initial feasibility study were secured, and a series of meetings in the county intently focused on the project’s possibility.

However, the focus was diverted at that time because of a growing need for a new county hospital facility. From that retargeting, the current Choctaw County Medical Center was constructed in 2013 and has since been paid in full.

Since the lake project never came to fruition, the board of supervisors has begun exploring the project again, with the intent of boosting the county’s population in the coming years. According to the last U.S. Census conducted, the population of Choctaw County fell from 8,547 in 2010 to 8,206 in 2020. 

Most recently, during a regularly scheduled July 15, 2022, meeting, the board approved travel and expenses for members to tour several lake projects, inside and outside of Mississippi, during August 15-17, 2022.

The long-term vision, according to Board President and District 1 Supervisor Joey Stephenson, “is a large lake around which homes can be built in a leased-type property-controlled environment that would attract people who want to make Choctaw County a place to put down permanent roots. This leased-type property area would possibly qualify as a separate taxing district.”

The board anticipates the lake would be significantly more sizeable than the 100-acre nearby Choctaw Lake, about three miles south of Ackerman. The new lake area could encompass some 1,000 acres and offer residences and recreational areas to create an atmosphere to attract families.

In recent years, several supervisors have traveled to Washington, D.C., to garner interest and pave the way for the feasibility funds request. Stephenson and Chris McIntire, District 3 supervisor and board vice president, made the first trip. McIntire is the lone supervisor remaining in office from the initial lake project exploration.

A second Washington journey added a third traveler, Greg Fondren, District 2 supervisor, to the group, along with a representative from Pickering Engineering in the Jackson area, a firm that played an integral role in earlier project plans. In the nation’s capital, the supervisors have met with Mississippi leaders Roger Wicker (R), the senior U.S. Senator from Mississippi; Cindy Hyde-Smith (R), the junior U.S. Senator from Mississippi; and Trent Kelly (R), a representative from Mississippi’s first congressional district, to garner renewed interest in the project.

The 2023 operating year for Choctaw County will begin Oct. 1, 2022, and the request for federal funds is for 2023. The board anticipates learning the fate of the request in 2024. Without funds for the preliminary feasibility study, they may be unable to pursue the lake at this juncture.

Although there is no formal timetable for the lake project to reach fruition, Stephenson said, “federal funds for the lake is the must-have factor to even move in that direction.”
The target location remains, most likely, the same preferred one as before — the Sand Creek area, off Mississippi Hwy. 12. Stephenson feels the entire project can stay within the county’s boundaries and in that area if federal funds are secured.

“Some of the earlier feasibility study is useable, and we can move forward from that point if we receive federal funds,” Stephenson said. “We do not have the money to build the lake without assistance, but we believe it is essential to grow Choctaw County’s population for the future.”