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Cities looking to get recreation, infrastructure, economic development projects out of BP fines

Ocean Springs Mayor Connie Moran speaks during a public meeting to discuss how Restore Act funds might be used by coastal Mississippi communities is held Thursday, April 11, 2013, at the Pascagoula Senior Center in Pascagoula, Miss. (Mike Brantley/This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.)

By April M. Havens | the Mississippi Press | April 11, 2013

PASCAGOULA, Mississippi -- The Mississippi coast has an once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to change its landscape as BP oil spill fines filter into the state, local municipal and county leaders said this morning during a Jackson County Chamber of Commerce Breakfast Roundtable.

The roundtable focused on the RESTORE Act, which lays out how fines from the 2010 BP oil spill would be distributed, and the GoCoast 2020 plan, which is Gov. Phil Bryant's road map for how the state will spend its share of the money.

The public event, which drew about 100 people the Pascagoula Senior Center, was moderated by Sen. Michael Watson and featured commentary from Sen. Brice Wiggins, leaders from each municipality and Jackson County Supervisor John McKay.

Brenda Simkins, who helped organize the roundtable, says the event was meant to help give a "common voice" to the local cities as they align themselves for BP funding.

Watson opened the program with a Mississippi Department of Environmental Quality slideshow on the Gulf Coast Ecosystem Restoration Council, which will oversee 60 percent of any BP fines.

About 30 percent of that share will be administered according to the council's comprehensive plan, a final draft of which will be released in July.

The other 30 percent will be allocated to the states according to a formula that includes oiled shoreline, population and distance from the Deepwater Horizon rig, and that money will be spent according to the states' individual expenditure plans.

Of the remaining money, which is not administered by the council, 5 percent will go to research and research grants and 35 percent will be split equally among the Gulf states.

"We don't know how much money we're going to receive yet," Watson said, but total fines could reach $17 billion.

Mississippi is the only state with a dedicated plan of how to use any funds that come down, he said.

Sen. Brice Wiggins said he's proud that Mississippi is so far ahead in planning for BP funds.

"Other states are looking to Mississippi and what we did in the GoCoast 2020 report," he said.

Not only does the state have an action plan, but Jackson County and all its cities are working to pin down projects that would be good candidates for funding.


In a short presentation, McKay said the county is "looking at some big projects" for BP funds, including expanding Trent Lott International Airport, expanding rail services, eliminating 23 railroad crossings in Pascagoula and Moss Point, dredging bayous throughout the county, and replacing Roy Cumbest bridge.

The much needed bridge project, which connects east and west Jackson County, could cost up to $20 million, he said.


Pascagoula City Manager Joe Huffman his city is considering a $24.2 million riverfront project for BP funding, which would include Point Park, the beach promenade, Yazoo Lake channel dredging, Inner Harbor repairs and adding public access and a restaurant at Spinnaker Point.

Another $424 million project would acquire riverfront property, relocate the wastewater treatment plant, complete Lighthouse Park and connect the bayou north of Lake Yazoo to the lake for improved drainage, Huffman said.

A third $7.6 million project would transform Lowry Island into a lively harbor, network of boardwalks and trails, park, pier and dock for shrimp and charter boats, he said, and a fourth $73 million project to execute some of the city's parks and recreation plan.

That project could include BB Jennings Park improvements, a new Live Oak Recreation Center, a new sportsplex or a new greenway trail system to connect the city's parks, bayous and green spaces.


Ocean Springs Mayor Connie Moran said she would like to see U.S. 90 expanded to 6 lanes, with frontage roads, lighting and biking paths. That project would greatly help both Ocean Springs and Gautier, she said.

Other projects could focus on walking paths to connect downtown to the Biloxi Bay Bridge, water access upgrades, preservation and a Fort Bayou walking path, greenway and kayak launch, she said.

The city also thinks it is vital for its cultural features such as the Mary C., WAMA, USM's Institute of Marine Sciences and the Gulf Islands National Seashore, be fully funded and supported, Moran said.


Gautier City Manager Samantha Abell said her city's project list includes a $4.5 million water filtration and supply system, $25 million for a Town Center and $25 million for a medical and technology corridor near Interstate 10 and Miss. 57.

Abell said Gautier is also pursuing a 400-acre wetlands bank with park trials, trail heads and rest areas; an Old Spanish Trail multi-purpose road for bikers and walkers that would go from Gautier to Ocean Springs; a riverwalk from The Old Place to Shepard State Park; and a restoration of Swetmans Beach into a public park.


Moss Point Mayor Aneice Liddell said she is "focusing on economic development, transportation/infrastructure and tourism" for BP funds.

"We want to make the Pascagoula River Audubon Center number 1 in the country," she said.

The city is also working on a river pine trail project at the site of the old Audubon center, a plan to conserve wetlands, a system of waterfront walking trails, waterfront sports development (including boat launches, river tours and observation sites), and rail system relocation and improvement.

Moss Point will also continue its riverfront development, hopefully adding a hotel and pavilion, and its basic infrastructure upgrades on aging sewer, water and gas systems, Liddell said.