Not too long after the government took 107 acres from Hershel McDuffy in northern Tishomingo County in the early 1970s, he was able to rent much of the same parcel of land for his farming activities.
McDuffy said the government, which took the land for possible industrial development associated with the Yellow Creek Port, has never used it, and he would like to buy it back.
Under legislation passed Tuesday by the Mississippi House by a 112-7 margin, McDuffy and others would have the right to rebuy their land at the same price they paid for it - plus any improvements. The bill, which now goes to the Senate, would allow the original owners of the land - or the children of the owner - to buy the land if the land has not been used by the government for 15 years and there is no plan by the governmental entity to use the land.
"The original property owner ought to have the opportunity to buy the land back if the government does not use it," said Rep. Jamie Franks, D-Mooreville.
Rep. Ricky Cummings, D-Iuka, said there are other people like McDuffy in Tishomingo County who would like to buy back land that they were forced to sell but was never used by the government. He estimated that more than 10,000 acres of land in Tishomingo County have been taken for various government projects, such as the Tennessee Tombigbee Waterway, the Yellow Creek Port, the never-finished Yellow Creek nuclear power plant and finally the failed advanced solid rocket motor plant.
Rep. Greg Snowden, R-Meridian, and others argued that the former property owner should be required to pay the current-market price for the land.
"You can't give public land that belongs to the taxpayers back at a level less than fair market value," Snowden said.
But, Rep. Jack Gadd, D-Hickory Flat, said the original landowner should be able to buy it for the original price because they had lost the opportunity to earn money on the land when forced to sell it.
McDuffy said he went to court to fight the sale of his land, but was forced to give it up for $38,000. He said he would like to buy it back at that price.
"I mostly rented it to farm and to keep it from growing up," he said. "A lot of the land they bought has grown up."
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