- Associated Press - Friday, March 28, 2014

JACKSON, Miss. (AP) - The Ross Barnett Reservoir is the crown jewel of recreation in the Jackson area, but keeping that diamond sparkling takes money, and boaters could soon be helping with the bill.

Impounded roughly 50 years ago, the 33,000-acre lake is a mecca for water sports, fishing and other recreation. But time and use have taken their toll. Some of problems include aging boat ramps and bathrooms, sediment that requires dredging and aquatic vegetation that is choking some areas.

According to John Sigman, reservoir general manager, lease fees from reservoir property are the main source of income. There are currently 6,200 business and residential leases. Older, fixed-rate leases are as low as $84 per year, while some of the more recent lease agreements are as high as $1,900.

“The overall average, if I had to pick a number, is $800 a year,” Sigman said.

Money also comes from water and sewage fees but is used for just that. Other revenue is generated by timber sales, but market prices fluctuate and Sigman said they have been down for the past several years.

Sigman said while the reservoir budget is approved by the Legislature, no funding comes from the state.

To offset maintenance and improvement costs, a proposal is in the works to implement an annual fee for watercraft.

“Basically, we’re talking a $35 fee for a small boat and $50 for a big boat,” Sigman said.

Boats under 26-feet will be considered small, and those 26-feet and over large. There will also be a $30 annual fee for personal watercraft, $10 for non-motorized craft and $10 for a 10-day temporary permit. Reservoir property residents will be exempt from the fees.

A similar plan was spawned in 2007 but was put on ice by the Legislature. Sigman said a line was added to the reservoir budget that stated none of the budget money could be used unless the boater fee was rescinded. Since then, that stipulation has been removed.

While he was never given an official reason for the stipulation, Sigman said he suspects it stemmed from angler concerns over what time of day permits could be purchased.

“The reason it failed was because there was no public input,” Sigman said. “We learned that lesson.”

This time around, users are weighing in.

“We think people are more accepting now,” Sigman said. “We’ve met with fishing groups, and they’re supportive.”

Don Brisendine of Terry has fished Barnett most of his life.

“Naturally, I’m for it,” Brisendine said. “It’s about the only place I fish.

“I’ve got three boats and it will cost me $100 a year, but I don’t mind at all if they put it to good use. Those piers at Goshen Springs are top-notch. If they got it all looking like that, sure.”

Brisendine said he feels other anglers will be like-minded.

“I think people who use the reservoir a lot definitely want to see some improvements,” he said.

Sigman said the projected $200,000 in additional revenue would be devoted to recreational improvements.

“It would not go to big salaries and fancy new trucks,” Sigman said.

While the proposal has so far enjoyed a majority approval, Sigman said there will be those who oppose it.

“You’re still going to have people who object because their granddaddy paid taxes to build the lake,” Sigman said. “And that’s well and good, but we still need money to maintain it.”

Sigman said the projected date for the fees to take affect is Jan. 1, but during the interim, public input is encouraged. Sigman said no matter how small, all concerns and comments will be reviewed.

He also said he expects a public meeting to be held in late summer.

___

Information from: The Clarion-Ledger, https://www.clarionledger.com

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