- Associated Press - Thursday, April 17, 2014

VICKSBURG, Miss. (AP) - The fate of the Sweet Olive, which took tourists on tours of the Mississippi River for nine years, is in the hands of Mack Varner, Vicksburg’s Community Court judge.

Community Development Director Victor Gray-Lewis said a hearing on the boat, which has been declared a nuisance by the city, will be May 20.

Mississippi River Tours owners Ann and Jim Jones closed their business in 2012, and the Sweet Olive has remained moored at the public landing at City Front. Jim Jones‘ father started the business in 2003. Ann Jones declined to comment on the situation.

“We had been getting complaints about the Sweet Olive from the (Mississippi and American) queens that come in and from others, and (they) asked if we could do something with the boat,” Gray-Lewis told the board at a work session this week.

“It’s no longer river-worthy. The Coast Guard no longer certifies it, and it just looks bad. It’s not maintained at all; it’s unsightly. It’s serving as a detriment when the tour boats come in.”

Gray-Lewis said he sent the Jones’ a letter in February asking them to remove the boat, citing a city ordinance that prohibits people from using the city’s public landing along the Yazoo Diversion Canal at city front without the permission of the board or the police chief.

“We gave them 30 days to do something. The 30 days was up three weeks ago, and the boat is still there,” he said, adding he talked with Ann Jones, who said they were trying to find a buyer for the boat. She had also written the board a letter asking to leave the boat at City Front, he said.

Gray-Lewis asked the board if it wanted to give the Joneses more time.

“She’s violating the law,” Mayor George Flaggs Jr. said. “There’s a process, right? Then let the process begin. Because if not, we’re serving as jury and judges before it gets to us, and I don’t feel comfortable about that. Circumstances may change.”

If the city’s complaint goes to court, Gray-Lewis said, it will not come before the board.

The Jones’ closed Mississippi River Tours in September 2012 and put the boat up for sale, citing a drop in business because of the economy and stricter Coast Guard regulations.

The boat, which carried up to 40 people, usually traveled south from the Yazoo Diversion Canal into the Mississippi River and turned around south of the Interstate 20 and U.S. Highway 80 bridges. The tours were conducted mainly in the spring, summer and fall from City Front, with most of the business coming from school tours.

Jim Jones said the 2011 spring flood, when the Mississippi River reached record heights in Vicksburg, cresting on May 19 at 57.1, 14.1 feet above flood stage and nine-tenths of a foot above the great flood of 1927 forced the Sweet Olive to shut down for that spring and much of that summer, also hurt the business.

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