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“Yesterday, the United States Court of Federal Claims ruled in favor of the State and denied the federal government’s motion to dismiss Mississippi’s valid claim for relief from the unconstitutional taking of thousands of acres of 16th Section land. When we filed this litigation, I said that when 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.”
Background on State of Mississippi v. USA, Consolidated Nos. 19-231L/19-258L (16th Section Takings Case)
In February 2019, then-Secretary of State Delbert Hosemann and the Mississippi Attorney General’s Office filed suit against the federal government on behalf of school children in districts in southwest Mississippi alleging an unconstitutional taking of thousands of acres of 16th Section land. Hosemann is currently serving as Lieutenant Governor, elected in November 2019.
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 almost 100 miles of the Mississippi River.
The lawsuit, which alleges the federal government’s artificial flooding amounts to an unconstitutional taking, seeks at least $25 million in damages. The U.S. Constitution’s Fifth Amendment Takings Clause requires the government to pay “just” compensation when it takes property for public use.
The school districts represented in the lawsuit include the Claiborne County School District, Jefferson County School District, Natchez-Adams School District, and the Wilkinson County School District.
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 school districts. For more information about 16th Section land in Mississippi, visit http://www.sos.ms.gov/Public-Lands/Pages/16th-Section-Lands.aspx.