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West Point, Clay County see ’11 storms, transitions

December 27, 2011

During 2011, West Point and Clay County saw severe storms, surprising conclusions to long political legacies and several improvement projects.
Randy Jones, West Point chief administrative officer, said he considered the year’s top story in the city and county to be damage from a series of April storms, including severe flooding on April 15 and the April 27 storm which spawned tornadoes across the Southeast.
“It took several months just to deal with all of that,” Jones said. “Most of our damage here in the city was flood damage, believe it or not. We did have some wind damage, particularly in the western and northwestern part of the county, all the way up through the north and northeastern part on a path commensurate with the tornadoes.
Jones said the southeast portion of the county also suffered significant damage. Hardwood and virgin forest, farm land and buildings, and individual homes were among the many losses from the storms, he said.
Another loss Jones said was “a real shocker” was the June 4 death of David Winfield, who served as District 5 supervisor for Clay County for more than 20 years. Another long-serving official, Laddie Huffman, announced his retirement in March after 20 years as Clay County’s sheriff.
“Previously, he was a justice court judge before that,” Jones said. “He’s been a stalwart; (he) grew up here in West Point.”
The year also saw new officials join the West Point community. In May, the West Point School District named Burnell McDonald as its new superintendent, replacing Steve Montgomery, who announced his retirement in March.
A much longer replacement process ended in August when the city named Tim Brinkley as its new police chief. Jones said the process took two years.
Jones said the city has also began a number of improvement projects over the past year, including expansion of the sewer system and preparations for major improvements to wastewater treatment to meet EPA and Mississippi Department of Environmental Quality standards.
“We’ve had several major road renovation projects go on,” Jones said. “Our Main Street bridge that collapsed in (September 2009), we got that open back to traffic.”
Another development Jones said benefitted the community was the official opening of the 4-H Therapeutic Riding and Activity Center. Jones said the center conducted some therapeutic riding sessions during construction before 2011 began, but the grand opening and completion of the full facility took place in 2011.
“It’s a really nice facility,” Jones said.
Finally, after West Point’s Navistar Defense faced heavy layoffs in 2010, it received a $13 million order for representatives, instructors and mechanics, and a $183 million delivery order for MaxxPro Dash ambulances, both in May. Navistar also announced it has received a $134 million order for field service representatives in December.
Jones said it was still difficult to paint a positive picture for West Point’s economy this year.
“The only thing I can say is it seems like we’ve hit the bottom,” Jones said. “I don’t know that we’re going to get any worse off. I’ve got more optimistic feelings about things getting better rather than worse from an economic standpoint. I don’t have anything really concrete to tell you why that is, but you know, it’s just a personal sense that we have an opportunity to improve our situation ... not in the immediate future, but maybe we’ll get on the right track, anyway.”

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