The Pat Harrison Waterway District Board of Directors voted last Thursday to revise a policy concerning use of waterfront camping spots at Flint Creek Water Park.
Complaints had been lodged that individuals were taking up the prime camping spots in the Mohawk campground on a permanent basis, while building piers and decks and making other improvements to the sites.
Jerry Gibson and his wife, Lorrie, attended Thursday’s meeting in Purvis and questioned how the revised policy would be enforced.
“Who’s going to enforce it and how are they going to enforce it?” Jerry Gibson asked.
Board member Ronnie Purvis, who represents Stone County, asked if it wouldn’t be the park manager, Joe Smith, who would be responsible for enforcement.
“That’s what I’m afraid of,” Gibson said.
He said Smith had allowed friends and family, among others, to get preferential treatment on the campsites available in the Mohawk campground.
Unlike the other two RV campgrounds, Seneca and Kanaka, Mohawk is designated on the Flint Creek Water Park web page as being, “first come, first serve.”
“Well, he’ll do as he’s directed,” Purvis said.
Both Jerry and Lorrie Gibson said they had been told conflicting stories about the improvements to the sites; that campers had said they paid for them and that park employees had said the park paid for them.
“Some of them [campers] have been there for two years,” Jerry Gibson said. “Some of them have hard PVC sewer hookups, flower beds, piers and other improvements like they’re on that site on a permanent basis.”
He also said a park employee had roped off two campsites while claiming they were undergoing maintenance while they were, in fact, being held for someone else.
Both Gibsons said they’d like the opportunity to camp on a waterfront site where they could park their ski boat, but those sites never become available.
“We pay $2,000 in property taxes and can’t enjoy our county’s resources,” Jerry Gibson said. “We have to trailer our boat in whenever we want to use it.”
The board eventually voted to adopt the new policy, which will restrict stays on the first come, first serve waterfront sites to 14 days during the peak camping season.
If they wish to remain in the campground, campers will have to move to a non-waterfront site for a minimum of 14 days before moving back to another waterfront site.
During the offseason, waterfront sites will be available in four-month increments.
The new policy seems sure to cause its own controversy, however.
Campers who call themselves month-to-monthers and have made the aforementioned improvements have said they were encouraged to do so by park employees.
Shawn Toranto, of New Orleans, said she and her husband had been on the same site for between two and three years.
She also said they waited for the site to become available and moved off of it four times to accommodate others who had reservations before the first come, first serve policy was implemented.
“The park is not [Americans with Disabilities Act] compliant and we built a bulkhead and stairs down to the water so my husband could enjoy it,” she said. “We also cleared the site of brush and bushes so we could see the water.
“We have invested $6,000 in improving that site and we were encouraged to do so by park personnel and, in addition, we pay $572 in rent monthly for that site.”
Toranto does not intend to go quietly and questioned how the Pat Harrison Waterway District could have meetings to implement policies and not advertise the time and location of those meetings so concerned parties could attend and address grievances they may have.
In a letter to assistant park manager Allen Wright, Toranto addressed some of her concerns.
“I am questioning the manner in which the board handled the process to implement the 14-day rule for lakefront property,” the letter reads, in part. “As a result, please note I am now formally requesting you honor my public records request for the committee and board minutes for the months of May, June and July of the 2019 calendar year.”
Toranto also requested she receive all agendas of the board a minimum of 24 hours prior to any meeting. She also pointed out the fact the PHWD website does not provide the names and email addresses of the members of the Board of Directors.
The Gibsons had requested the same email notice of meetings last Thursday and were told that was not possible and the only announcement of meetings, which are held the fourth Thursday of each month in a different location, was posted at the Pat Harrison Waterway District headquarters in Hattiesburg.
Toranto said, if necessary, she will institute legal proceedings concerning the policy.
Smith, for his part, said he would follow the law as presented to him.
“The law’s been put into place and we’re going to follow the directions of the Pat Harrison Waterway District Board of Directors,” he said.