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VOL. 124 | NO. 17 | Tuesday, January 27, 2009

New Developer Awaits TVA Approval for Pickwick Project

By Tom Wilemon

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NEVER BUILT: Motorists along Miss. 25 headed to Pickwick Lake see a cleared 31-acre site that was supposed to be home to a marina and other recreational amenities, including rental cabins. -- PHOTO BY TOM WILEMON

Mississippi’s Tishomingo County Development Foundation has selected a new developer to take over a Pickwick Lake marina project that that has been mired in environmental problems, a federal lawsuit and defaulted lease payments.

The new developer is one of three with whom TCDF officials have been talking since David McMeans of Collierville, the developer of the Pickwick Pines Resort, went into default on his lease payments.

Gary Matthews, TCDF’s executive director, would not identify the developer until the Tennessee Valley Authority approves the new plan.

The 31-acre site along Miss. 25, a couple of miles south of Aqua Yacht Harbor, is owned by TVA. The federal agency leased the property to TCDF, which subleased the property to Pickwick Pines Marina Inc., another McMeans business venture.

Pickwick Pines and TCDF went into default on their payments to the federal agency.

“We are putting together a proposal to TVA,” Matthews said. “Until TVA approves our concept, it probably wouldn’t be a good idea to talk about specifics because the ball is in their court.”

Strong local involvement

Pickwick Lake has long been a weekend getaway for Memphians. Several people from the Memphis area are involved in one way or the other with the project.

Mike Tutor, the president of Radians Inc. and the owner of Marine Sales of Pickwick, has approached TCDF about taking over the project. John Lichterman and others who own property nearby have filed a federal lawsuit over environmental concerns.

Tutor said Monday morning he did not know if he had been selected as the new developer.

EROSION CONCERN: A once wooded hillside on Pickwick Lake is now a muddy slope. This photograph taken across a cove from the Pickwick Pines Marina site near the Yellow Creek Port shows the condition that has spurred owners of nearby cabins to file a federal lawsuit. -- PHOTO BY TOM WILEMON

“I certainly would like that, but I certainly don’t know at this point,” Tutor said.

Matthews said TCDF looked at three proposals and selected “the one that most clearly mirrored what TVA was expecting.”

McMeans cleared the wooded site, but never built the planned marina with 228 boat slips, fuel dock, dry-stack storage and rental cabins. What once was a wooded hillside on the lake is now a muddy slope.

Officials at the Mississippi Department of Environmental Quality inspected the site Jan. 12 and determined that storm water prevention measures are not in place on the entire site. TVA and TCDF are supposed to submit a plan by today to the state agency detailing how the problems will be corrected, said Robbie Wilbur, communications director for MDEQ.

“We have asked them to submit a plan to our agency about correcting the problem,” Wilbur said. “The controls are not being maintained right now, the storm water controls, properly.”

The state agency has not imposed any fines at this point, Wilbur said.

Corrective action

The federal lawsuit filed by Lichterman and others contends TVA “has systematically approved the destruction and clear-cutting of trees in the protected buffer areas.”

U.S. District Judge Sharion Aycock in 2007 ruled that a 100-foot buffer along the north end of the cove had been violated, but decided in favor of defendants TVA, TCDF and Pickwick Pines Marina Inc., on another buffer zone. The judge determined that a 50-foot shoreline management zone had not been violated.

The cabin owners have appealed the ruling from the federal court in Aberdeen, Miss., to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit.

The Office of the U.S. Inspector General also has investigated the defaulted lease payments. The federal watchdog agency conducted the investigation “based on concerns expressed to the Office,” according to its report.

Matthews said development of the recreational site is a goal for tourism development by TCDF. It may be 30 days before TCDF officials learn whether TVA will approve the new developer and plans for the site.

“It’s been a priority for close to a decade,” Matthews said. “We’ve just run into one problem after another. It’s been a long time in being developed. We hope this is a positive step. We hope we’re going in the right direction.”

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