Former Mississippi State University men’s basketball coach Rick Stansbury is looking to cut the costs associated with his Oktibbeha County Lake lease, Starkville-Oktibbeha Consolidated School Board Attorney John Hill confirmed Monday.
Hill said the school district received a letter from Stansbury last week concerning a clause in the lease allowing a rebate if the lake’s water level falls below eight feet of a drain and remains at that depth or lowers for a period of 30 consecutive days.
The lake’s water level was lowered sometime this spring or summer to relieve pressure and allow for better assessments after engineers identified slope failures along County Lake Road’s levee.
The adjustment then led to the indefinite closing of Stansbury’s waterpark, Starkville Wet N Wild.
The lease contains a formula to determine compensation, but that figure cannot be determined without knowing exactly how long the lake’s water level has been eight feet below the drain.
Oktibbeha County Road Manager Victor Collins deferred questions to County Engineer Clyde Pritchard, and a call to Pritchard went unreturned Monday.
Hill did not disclose the specifics of Stansbury’s request outside of confirming its receipt with the district.
SOCSD Superintendent Lewis Holloway deferred comments and legal questions to Hill.
“We’re in the process of walking through the calculations. If (Oktibbeha County Lake) is not able to be used, then he’s entitled to a break, per the lease,” Hill said. “This issue was just brought to my attention (Monday morning), and we’re just now getting into the process.”
Stansbury, his wife Meo and former business partners John and Debbie Barnett, took over the lake’s 16th section lease and another land agreement for adjacent county property in 2012 and established Starkville Wet N Wild. Two years later, the Barnetts transferred their portion of the lease to the Stansburys and walked away from the business venture.
The two agreements combine for roughly 400 acres of water and land. The 16th section lease generates about $32,000 annually for SOCSD, while the county receives about $2,500 for its portion of land.
Stansbury previously approached the county about taking over the two leases and purchasing Starkville Wet N Wild, its KOA Campground and rental cabins for about $2 million. A previous letter to the board of supervisors from Stansbury stated the now-Western Kentucky University coach invested about $1.5 million into the entire business.
Last week, supervisors issued a request for proposals from firms interested in conducting a cost-benefit analysis for the potential purchase and a review of revenues and expenditures associated with operating the lake and waterpark as a public facility.
Supporters of the deal, including District 3 Supervisor Marvell Howard, said the waterpark would represent Oktibbeha County’s first attempt to provide a recreational destination for residents outside of Starkville. Those opposed, including District 4 Supervisor Bricklee Miller, said the venture could cost the county more money than it produces once the realities of maintenance, liability and salaries are realized.
It is not known how long the lake’s water level will remain lowered for repairs. Last month, supervisors approved an almost-$700,000 bid from Camady Contracting for work along County Lake Road. Those repairs have begun, and Collins said workers could complete the project in at least a month.
The county is on the hook for about $118,000 for the job after Howard confirmed funds from the Natural Resources Conservation Service would pay for a majority of the project.
Other lake maintenance projects, however, are expected to come in the future. Work is still needed to repair the body of water’s slide gate and emergency spillway, and to solve issues with water seepage.
In February, Pritchard estimated the entire scope of lake issues could cost about $7 million, but on Monday Miller said that figure is now about $5 million.
Supervisors have not yet determined how to fund those repairs, and Howard previously said they will not qualify as emergency fixes for the NRCS stream.
Carl Smith covers Starkville and Oktibbeha County for The Dispatch. Follow him on Twitter @StarkDispatch