What Gulf Coast Congressman Gene Taylor wanted the Easter Bunny to bring him.
South Mississippi Living 4/07

Monday, September 24, 2007

Buyout plan startles residents, businesses

Posted on Fri, Sep. 21, 2007

BAY ST. LOUIS -- Reaction was swift this week to a plan announced by the federal government to buy thousands of acres of hurricane-vulnerable land from private owners as a storm-damage abatement measure.

On Monday a standing-room-only crowd of residents first heard about the proposed buyout from officials of the Army Corps of Engineers and the Mississippi Department of Marine Resources. Almost immediately, a resolution by the business community fluttered its way out of the Hancock County Chamber of Commerce and was endorsed by the Bay St. Louis City Council.

Council members also announced their intent to craft a resolution of their own, but decided to take time to work on the language. Hancock County Board of Supervisors President Rocky Pullman said Thursday his board has not discussed passing a related resolution.

The chamber's three-page resolution essentially asks the state and federal agencies to work with the business community and local governmental bodies before proceeding further with the Mississippi Coastal Improvements Program. The DMR and corps admitted at the public meeting they had been working on the plan for the better part of two years, but have solicited little public input.

The MSCIP is an enormous plan that, if enacted and funded by Congress, could contain as much as $10 billion worth of projects that would affect all three coastal Mississippi counties. A government buyout of as much as 30,000 acres Coastwide would apparently be among the first components.

In the Bay St. Louis area, the corps has targeted all of Shoreline Park and much of Cedar Point for a buyout. Both areas were hit hard by Hurricane Katrina, but property owners are rebuilding. Hollywood Casino also is located in the buyout area.

Across the Bay of St. Louis, the corps wants to buy most of Henderson Point and a swath of land in northern Pass Christian Isles.

Although a top DMR official promised property buyouts would not be mandatory, there has been widespread skepticism. Residents are reacting warily to claims from government agencies that conducted such large-scale planning behind closed doors for so long.

The chamber's resolution has 14 "whereas" clauses before getting to the resolution point. It asks that the corps and DMR "publicly make clear that any future structural and/or non-structural improvement plans would only include those that are designated as appropriate through the City of Bay St. Louis, City of Waveland and Hancock County comprehensive plans."

Tish Williams, executive director of the Chamber of Commerce, said such an action would hopefully quell economic fears created by the announcement of the coastal-improvement plan. She said developers have complained the prospect of such a huge property buyout is causing investors to have second thoughts.

"News of these models here created uncertainty in the marketplace," Williams said. "What if the casino were to take a buyout? Nine hundred jobs would be lost."

Williams said the chamber hopes to see the corps and DMR consult local business and government as the coastal-improvement plan moves forward. But she differed with an offer from DMR Executive Director Bill Walker to drop Hancock County from the plan altogether.

It remains unclear whether Walker, as head of a state agency, would have the authority to significantly alter a federal program.

"The business community believes that dropping Hancock County from the MSCIP is not an option," she said. "We don't want to be dropped from the program. We want to be part of the process."

© 2007 Sun Herald. All Rights Reserved.

The Sun Herald published the original article on September 21, 2007.

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