Attorney General Lynn Fitch is standing her ground in the fight over enforcing tideland leases across the Gulf Coast, saying she sides with the Mississippi Supreme Court.
In March, the Mississippi Supreme Court handed down a ruling in favor of allowing the city of Biloxi and Harrison County to lease property on the tidelands to RW Development.
The ruling stated that city and county officials were not required to have tidelands leases for the area as the development company was planning to use the land to rebuild a public pier at Veterans Avenue. According to documents, the court agreed that the documentation would not be needed as city piers have been built without a tidelands lease for years.
Fitch explained during an interview on MidDays with Gerard Gibert that she will continue to uphold the court’s decision despite Secretary of State Michael Watson’s continued push to enforce tidelands leases throughout coastal Mississippi.
“My office, I have a different view than Secretary Watson on that and the recent Supreme Court laws certainly give the steering toward how we’re following the law that they set out in their decision,” Fitch said. “That’s important and we have a difference in view of how the law should be implemented. I am always going to follow the Mississippi Supreme Court’s rulings.”
For over a year, Watson has repeatedly requested Fitch’s assistance in enforcing the laws, arguing in a letter sent to the attorney general’s office in May that Fitch is costing the taxpayers unnecessary funds.
“I write once again to express my concerns about matters in which we have requested assistance from your office to no avail,” a portion of the letter reads. “I have included a chronology below outlining our multiple attempts to obtain assistance from your office, as the state’s ‘law firm’ and its failure to act on behalf of my office to protect the state’s interest.”
Since then, Watson has received Fitch’s approval for the hiring of a private firm for $75,000 to prosecute entities that are currently violating tidelands leasing laws across the coast.
The secretary of state’s office has hired outside lawyers to enforce basic contract and trespass laws for the tidelands, but Watson continues to maintain that the responsibility belongs to the attorney general’s office and the Department of Marine Resources.