STATE FARM'S HEAD ON A PLATTER
What Gulf Coast Congressman Gene Taylor wanted the Easter Bunny to bring him.
South Mississippi Living 4/07

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Residents dispute corps plan


Hancock County may be removed from scheme


By J.R. WELSH
baybureau@aol.com


BAY ST. LOUIS --
The top dog at Mississippi's marine resources agency said Monday that if resistance persists here toward a massive federal buyout of private lands envisioned by his agency and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, he will drop Hancock County from a scheme that was to include all three coastal counties.

"From what I've heard tonight, this is not a very popular idea here," said Bill Walker, executive director of the Mississippi Department of Marine Resources. "Chances are, we're not going to pursue this in Hancock County."

His remarks came at a public meeting held to explain portions of the Mississippi Coastal Improvements Program, a 30-year, multimillion-dollar plan by the corps and DMR. By the time the evening ended, resident rancor grew so intense that Walker was promising to not only drop the buyout plan, but also remove Hancock County from the entire program.

Aside from property buyouts, it would include extensive hurricane protection projects along the Mississippi Coast.

"If they tell us, 'Stay out of it,' we will remove Hancock County from the entire MSCIP," Walker said.

He repeated throughout the night that the buyout program would be purely voluntary, and no one would be forced to sell his home to the government. That seemed to be a cold comfort to distraught residents, who at times jeered.

Although officials say no firm plan proposal yet exists in writing, the Hancock County meeting was a trial balloon for the program that calls for buying thousands of flood-prone acres and removing current private owners in Hancock, Harrison and Jackson counties. Corps of Engineers maps that have been circulating in recent days show proposed buyout areas that include all of Shoreline Park and parts of the Cedar Point area in Bay St. Louis.

Corps of Engineers representative Susan Rees assured the crowd that a buyout would not be "a land grab to give to some sort of developer out there." Land acquired by the government would remain as marshes or green spaces, she said.

Although she spoke extensively about hurricane data, Rees gave few specifics on the overall plan. And although a study has been under way for two years, nothing yet exists on paper, she said. Officials have until Dec. 31 to file a written plan with Congress.

The plan envisions building a Coastwide hurricane protection system that in Hancock County could include a 40-foot-high seawall around Bay St. Louis, elevated roadways and levees as high as 30 feet along the CSX Railroad tracks, or huge flood gates obstructing the mouth of the Bay of St. Louis. According to a corps artist's concept, a Bay St. Louis seawall would block any view from Old Town of the bay.

After changing the meeting location twice on short public notice, the corps and DMR held the gathering Monday night at Bay Middle School. Despite location confusion, word got around and at least 200 residents packed the school's cafeteria. The mood began as polite and reserved but heated up to a level near hostility toward the two agencies as the night wore on.

Original Sun Herald article published September 18, 2007.

Read A.M. in the Morning's take on the meeting.

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2 comments:

Anonymous said...

Looks like the Sun Herald pulled that article, or at least changed the URL! I'm glad you captured the news.

Ana Maria said...

Wow! Thanks for the notice. The article is gone, just as you stated. Thankfully, I'll get a hard copy of it in today's paper. That is surely something. Usually, the article goes to archives after 7 days, not 7 or so minutes! ;)

Again, thank you ever so much for alerting me to this strange happening. And, thanks, too, for reading A.M. in the Morning!