Two counties sue state, claim governor can’t close bridges

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R.L. Nave, Mississippi Today

A closed bride in Amite County. There are more than 500 bridges closed around Mississippi.

Two Mississippi counties are suing Gov. Phil Bryant and several agencies over Bryant’s recent emergency declaration that led to more than 100 bridges being closed around the state.

Smith and Jasper counties, which filed the lawsuit in Hinds County Chancery Court Tuesday, said the governor’s proclamation exceeds the powers he is granted under the emergency management law. The state departments of Transportation and Public Safety and Mississippi Emergency Management Agency are also named as defendants.

“The closing of these bridges has caused significant and widespread hardship to the citizens of these counties. These hardships include: the re-routing of school buses which has caused inconveniences to parents and their children; the increased risk to the citizens in the event of emergency medical needs and the ability of emergency personnel to respond to those needs; law enforcement being able to respond to emergency situations; and fire and rescue personnel being delayed in the event of a catastrophic fire,” said J.D. Sanford, an attorney with Marc E. Brand & Associates, the firm representing the counties.

The counties also say the closures have disrupted industry. The lawsuit is seeking an injunction to halt Bryant’s April 10 order to the state transportation department to close bridges around the state.

The complaints in the suit mirror those of local residents and county officials who recently spoke with Mississippi Today. In addition to the extra time it takes to go around detours, they expressed concerns about emergency-services personnel.

Frustration, fears accelerate with no solution in sight for bridge crisis

Bryant’s office did not immediately respond to a Mississippi Today request for comment, but told the Clarion-Ledger’s Geoff Pender through a statement that independent inspectors deemed the brides unsafe:

“I refuse to sit idly by and risk loss of life. Had counties done their job, I would not have had to exercise my authority, which will protect the very people who elected these supervisors. Ensuring public safety will remain my top priority, and I will not hesitate to do all in my power to carry out that mission,” he told the Clarion-Ledger.

Read Mississippi Today’s complete bridge closure coverage