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

Thursday, October 11, 2007

Taylor: ‘No federal buy-outs’

By Mary G. Seiley
Oct 10, 2007

Area officials are set to huddle with the Corps of Engineers and state Department of Marine Resources Oct. 29., concerning the controversial Mississippi Coastal Improvement Program.

The meeting, arranged by the Hancock County Chamber of Commerce, is planned for elected officials only, although media representatives will be allowed too. Meanwhile, the public is urged to let their city, county, and state officials know of their concerns so they will be represented at the meeting.

Tish Williams, executive director off the Chamber, arranged the meeting for 4 p.m. at a Hollywood Casino meeting space.

Invitees include the mayors and council of Bay St. Louis and Waveland, Hancock County Board of Supervisors and the county administrator, state Reps. J.P. Compretta, Jessica Upshaw and Dirk Dedeaux. State Sen. Scottie Cuevas also is invited, as well as Chris Lagarde of US. Rep. Gene Taylor’s office, Phara Fishburn of Sen. Thad Cochran’s office, and Scot Walker of Sen. Trent Lott’s office.

Williams asked that the general public not be invited, in order to “make this meeting as productive as possible.”

Last month, the Sea Coast Echo printed details of proposed property buyouts by the Corps of a vast stretch of Bay St. Louis, including most of the territory along the Jourdan River south of Bayou La Croix to Julia Street.

DMR and the Corps called a public hearing immediately after that news broke, and faced hundreds of area residents frightened by and opposed to any buyout plan.

In what appears to be a nearly final scenario for Hancock County, officials have engineering and design underway for seawall restoration at Cowand Point, the Bay St. Louis Seawall and Clermont Harbor. Jackson Marsh, Bayou Caddy and Hancock County beaches are up for environmental restoration, and storm water capacity in Hancock County streams will be restored.

The buyouts -- still in the MSCIP final draft -- are longer-term plans, impacting such areas as Cedar Point and Clermont Harbor.
“Based on the analysis we identified a number of areas that are considered a priority for the nonstructural option of buyout/relocation,” the document states. “These area areas that will continue to sustain damages during future events if no action is taken. In these cases, even if an engineering solution is considered, the areas are either outside the footprint of the engineer solution or the engineered solution either would not reduce damages to these areas of could make the level of damages greater.”

Planners say they’ve dropped the idea of building a 40-foot seawall at Bay St. Louis. But construction of a long linear levee from high ground north of I-10, in the western part of the county south to the area of the railroad corridor and eastward with a surge gate across the mouth of St. Louis Bay “is an option still under consideration“ an updated report from the Corps states.

In lieu of the linear levee, officials are still considering ring levees surrounding populated sites in Bay St. Louis and, possibly, Waveland.
A ring levee system at Pearlington is also under consideration.
The buyout idea remains a volatile issue in Hancock County, although it is a voluntary concept that would first involve properties which haven’t been rebuilt.

Next would come properties that were undeveloped prior to Katrina and remain undeveloped, followed by structures that may have been rebuilt.
Officials say the buyout program would take 10 to 20 years to complete, turning the newly owned government lands into green space, recreation areas and nature preserves.

In a recent interview DMR’s executive director, Dr. Bill Walker, told the Sea Coast Echo that most of the calls he’s received since the huge public hearing have been in favor of voluntary buyouts.

He held a meeting last week with the president of Bay St. Louis City Council, James C. Thriffiley III, and Hancock County Board of Supervisor Jay Cuevas, to rehash the plan.

That session was set up by Sam Moore, president of the Garden Isles Community Association, who calls the plan a “boondoggle…poorly thought out and a knee jerk reaction.”

Walker has essentially left the fate of the buyout part of the plan up to area elected officials to endorse or crush.

While Thriffiley said Monday a buyout program would be “a major disaster which would destroy development and redevelopment,” City Council hasn’t taken an official position on the matter yet.

It was on the agenda for discussion and probable action Tuesday night. The Board of supervisors and Waveland aldermen also are expected to reach official positions on the proposals soon, possibly presenting them to Walker at the Chamber-sponsored gathering on Oct. 29.

U.S. Rep. Gene Taylor yesterday issued a statement that – as far as he is concerned – the buy-out plan won’t happen.

“There will be no mandatory buyouts at the federal level,” Taylor said. “As you may be aware, the State of Mississippi has previously been given federal funding for Katrina-related recovery efforts. What the state chooses to do with funds already given to it is a decision for state officials. However, I assure you that there will be no federal funds for mandatory buyouts.”

MSCIP was funded under a $10 million federal appropriation in December 2005. A final report is due to Congress this December.

© Copyright 2007 Bay St. Louis Newspapers, Inc.

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