The Army Corps of Engineers has informed DeSoto County officials that residents may be able to get out of a flowage easements on their property around Arkabutla Lake, but must pay for an investigation first.
County Administrator Vanessa Lynchard told the Board of Supervisors on Monday that she received an email back from the Corps informing her that there is a process property owners can request to not be included in the flowage easement.
“The Corps made it clear in their communication that they would have to pay for an investigation to see if it could come out before they will make a determination,” Lynchard said. “It’s not a perfect, wonderful thing, but it is a whole lot better than we thought.”
County officials and representatives from the Corps of Engineers met with residents affected by flowage easements at a public meeting in October to explain what flowage easements are and what options, if any, they could take to have them removed.
A flowage easement is an area of private land that was purchased by the Corps of Engineers in the 1940s when the area was flooded to build Arkabutla Lake and Dam giving the agency a perpetual right to flood the area if necessary in order to operate a reservoir.
The easements prohibit construction or expansion of buildings and homes in the easement area. Many residents who own property in the easements that they hoped to build on or subdivide were unaware that the easements are in place forever and transfer when then land is sold.
While the Army Corps of Engineers will not come in and tear down any existing homes or structures, the easements prohibit any type of future construction.
Lynchard said county GIS analyst Rob Winkler created an interactive map which allows the county to pinpoint property to see whether or not is impacted by flowage easements.
She said in some instances, some of the property does actually fall outside the flowage easement elevation. Arkabutla Dam sits at 264.3 feet in elevation. If the dam flooded, property sitting above that elevation would not be underwater and could qualify to be removed from the easement.
“What you are going to find is in some cases they surveyed the area and they included the whole (property) in the legal description,” Lynchard said. “I can tell you there are places on that map that are above that elevation that are still in that flowage easement that could come out. So some people could have a good argument.”
District 1 Supervisor Jessie Medlin said it appears the Army Corps of Engineers included more property than was necessary.
“It looks like what they did was they drew straight lines instead of lines that move in and out,” Medlin said.
Medlin asked whether property owners would have to pay back the Army Corps of Engineers the amount the owners were paid when the easement was purchased, or the current value of the land.
“Would you pay for what they paid back then, or now?” Medlin said. “How do we know they paid Mrs. Jones that amount of money 60 years ago?”
Lynchard said the Corps of Engineers would charge fair market value “and additional administrative fees for the disposal or transfer.”
District 4 Supervisor Lee Caldwell said those are all points the county is going to need to bring up again in future discussions.
“I think it is going to take all of us working together on this … and also including some of those other counties because the more people that are involved, we’ll have better listening ears in Washington.”