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Hurst claims interchange site picked to benefit specific few

By By Steve Gillespie / staff writer
July 22, 2003
Roy Hurst of Meridian told Lauderdale County supervisors Monday night that they should be more concerned about the location of a proposed interchange.
Hurst wanted to know who chose the interchange site, near Hawkins Crossing Road, which will connect a new industrial park with Interstate 20/59. The site as currently proposed will also serve a privately developed industrial park.
The site was chosen, Hurst charged, because Meridian Mayor John Robert Smith wanted to help the owners of the private park developers whom Hurst said are friends of the mayor.
Hurst also criticized Mississippi Department of Transportation Commissioner Dick Hall, whom he says refuses to say who picked the proposed site.
District 1 Supervisor Hank Florey said the site was chosen when engineers were brought into the project, and chosen by a committee, on which Florey served.
District 3 Supervisor and board President Craig Hitt said the engineering firm chose the site.
District 5 Supervisor Ray Boswell was not targeted by Hurst. Boswell took credit for obtaining a map he said was drawn up by Engineering Associates, a Jackson firm that is working on the project. Hurst used the map in his address to the board, which lasted more than an hour.
Hitt said a public hearing will be held concerning the site, maybe within a couple of months.
Congress appropriated $4.5 million for a new interchange to service a proposed industrial park known locally as the Malone Ranch property that officials now call the I 20/59 Industrial Park. The land was purchased by the Lauderdale County Board of Supervisors and the park's development is being managed by the East Mississippi Business Development Corp.
But during the developmental process, Hurst has charged, the proposed location of the interchange was changed to run through private property owned by Great South Development Inc.
Controversy about the interchange first emerged in September when Meridian city councilmen chose another firm over Engineering Associates even though a selection committee scored Engineering Associates' bid more favorably.
The city council was told if it did not pick the higher-scoring firm, federal money might be out of reach. After the council picked Engineering Associates as the project engineer, the selection process came under scrutiny when it was revealed that the public works director told a selection committee member to change her scores for Engineering Associates in the first place.
The mayor vetoed the council's selection and started from scratch naming a new selection committee to consider proposals. The committee included Ward 1 Councilman George Thomas, Lauderdale County District 1 Supervisor Hank Florey, BellSouth regional manager C.D. Smith, barbershop owner Bill Gordon Sr. and Meridian businessman Paul Nuckolls.