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South Mississippi Living 4/07

Thursday, September 20, 2007

Religious leaders protest port plan

Housing money to expand port

Posted on Thu, Sep. 20, 2007

BILOXI --More than a dozen religious leaders issued a challenge to Gov. Haley Barbour on Wednesday, giving him 24 hours to answer their protests to a plan that would use housing recovery funds to expand the Port of Gulfport.

The Mississippi Coast Interfaith Disaster Task Force held a meeting at the Saenger Theater urging residents to comment on the Mississippi Development Authority plan announced Sept. 7 to redirect $600 million of Community Development Block Funds allocated for the Homeowner Assistance Program to rebuild the port.

"Our objective is to ensure the $600 million is used for its intended purpose," said pastor Jason Johnson of the Abundant Life Evangelical Church of Biloxi.

Pastor Larry Hawkins of the Union Baptist Missionary Baptist Church of Pascagoula said he expects a response from Barbour today when he comes to the Saenger for a debate with gubernatorial candidate John Eaves.

"Unmet needs cannot continue to go unmet," said Hawkins.

Faith-based organizations have been bearing the burden of unmet housing needs, Hawkins said. The state's assistance program has been flawed from the start, he said.

The MDA issued a statement following the meeting: "The Port of Gulfport recovery is part of the plan that the governor submitted to Congress, the President and the Legislature in November 2005 to obtain this recovery funding. We're using these funds to rebuild and upgrade the Port of Gulfport to restore jobs and ultimately impact the Coast's economy. We have created and implemented first-of-their-kind programs for both homeowners and renters, and we will continue to do so."

Johnson said the group does not oppose economic development or expansion of the port, but it wants the state to find other funds for the project. He said the group is facing a difficult battle.

"I call it Goliath," Johnson said.

Pastor Darrell Taylor of the Prince of Peace Baptist Church said the task force has collected more than 2,000 signatures on a petition opposing the MDA plan.

The Sun Herald originally published this article on September 20, 2007.

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