Secretary of State Delbert Hosemann and Attorney General Jim Hood filed suit today against the federal government on behalf of school children in three districts in southwest Mississippi alleging an unconstitutional taking of almost 8,000 acres of 16th Section land.
“This is a historic day for our State,” Secretary Hosemann said. “Today, our State and three public school districts allege the United States has taken property deeded to Mississippi 200 years ago.”
The allegations in the complaint, filed in the U.S. Court of Federal Claims, stem from artificial flooding caused by the Old River Control Structure, a water control project under the purview of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. Launched in the early 1950s, the project sought to change the natural course of water flowing from the Mississippi River to the Atchafalaya River by diverting more water down the Mississippi River. The goal was to prevent damage to cities in Louisiana, including Baton Rouge and New Orleans.
The project, however, failed to account for the inevitable destruction of Mississippi land. Over the years, artificial flooding from the Structure has caused increased siltation, deterioration of wildlife habitats, tree mortality, and other problems on private and public land along Mississippi River.
The lawsuit, which alleges the federal government’s artificial flooding amounts to an unconstitutional taking, seeks at least $25 million in damages on almost 8,000 acres of 16th Section land. The U.S. Constitution’s Fifth Amendment Takings Clause requires the government to pay “just” compensation when it takes property for public use.
“All of the money raised by the leasing of 16th Section lands, timber sales, and other transactions related to these properties goes directly to our public schools,” said Secretary Hosemann, who serves as supervisory trustee of 16th Section land. “When this public trust land is destroyed unlawfully, our children are the ones who suffer. The only responsible action is for the federal government to make our school districts whole.”
General Hood agreed.
“The federal government has caused thousands of acres of land in southwest Mississippi to flood, killing timber and, in essence, taking property from Mississippians. Every 16th section (generally containing 640 acres) out of a 36 section township and range was kept by the state to hold in trust for the public schools in that county; many counties contain several 16th sections,” General Hood said. “The school boards, with oversight by the Secretary of State, have a duty to make sure that the lands earn the most revenues possible from sources such as hunting and farming leases and sale of timber and oil. I have a duty to make sure that no individual, company, or even the federal government takes property from our state, its citizens and, particularly, our children without paying for it.”
The school districts represented in the lawsuit include the Claiborne County School District (657 impacted acres), Natchez-Adams School District (5,540 impacted acres), and the Wilkinson County School District (1,734 impacted acres).
Sixteenth Section land is select property in each county set aside when the State was formed for the benefit of public schools. Across the State, about 640,000 acres of 16th Section land are held in trust for 101 school districts. For more information about 16th Section land in Mississippi, visit http://www.sos.ms.gov/Public-Lands/Pages/16th-Section-Lands.aspx .