Bay Council: Marina not ‘a done deal’

Bay St. Louis

Some Bay St. Louis City Council members are questioning recent assertions by proponents that building a $17.9 million marina and waterfront improvements project in Old Town is a certainty, assuming the city’s permit request passes muster with regulatory agencies.

To the contrary, the council members said this week, they have never given blanket approval to spend federal and state grants on a beach-front marina. And they said they want further investigation and answers to numerous questions before they do commit to the project, which would be owned by the city.

In a Feb. 3 meeting with the Sea Coast Echo, Mayor Les Fillingame and three of the city’s five-member, appointed Harbor Committee said marina funding is guaranteed through grants from the state and the federal Department of Housing and Urban Development.

They added that both the City Council and Hancock County Board of Supervisors have given approval for the project, and the only thing that could prevent a marina would be a failure to gain regulatory approval by agencies including the Army Corps of Engineers and the state Department of Marine Resources.

That was inaccurate, City Council President Bill Taylor said after a news story based on that meeting appeared in the Echo on Feb. 6. A headline on the front-page story read: “Marina Certain,” and the contents of the story reflected that sentiment from the mayor and Harbor Committee members.

“As far as I know, unless I have missed something, this is not a done deal in any means or fashion,” Taylor said Thursday.

He said the City Council did vote to accept a feasibility study on the marina, and also agreed to hire an architect and engineer to format project plans. But, he added, “the council has never come back and said, ‘okay'” to actual project construction.

The votes to accept a $184,000 feasibility plan and hire the engineers and architects occurred at a council meeting last April 7, according to council records. The records do not show any resolutions or other blanket approval issued or voted upon for a marina by the council.

Ward 3 Councilman Jeff Reed agreed with Taylor. He said no blanket approval for the project has ever been issued, and the council wants to receive and study more definitive information on the project’s chances of business success.

“We’re still waiting on numbers to come back,” Reed said
Ward 5 Councilman Joey Boudin, who has repeatedly called for more information on the costs of operating a marina, also said the City Council must be the final arbiter on whether to build the project.

“I feel like we have the final say,” Boudin said. While he said he isn’t opposed to a marina, he added, “I feel confident that we’re going to have to subsidize it. The only question is, how much? I’d like to know where we stand.”

Councilwoman Wendy McDonald represents Ward 2, where the project would be located between DeMontluzin and Court Streets on the bay. She said debate over the project has led to widespread public confusion.

“If I’m confused, then I’m not the only one,” McDonald said. “We need the facts put in a simple, clear, and easy-to-understand format.”

Taylor also said he doesn’t oppose a marina, but is concerned because meetings of the Harbor Committee have never been announced to the public.

“Nobody is reporting any of the progress, or what they’ve done,” he said. “They’ve been having these private meetings. When you’re doing city business, it’s got to be out in the open.”

Taylor said he wants to see a defined business plan that projects operating costs, revenues, engineering and maintenance needs, and other pertinent facts. Also, he said, “I’d like to see some engineers and architects come back and say, ‘this is our final plan.'”

Taylor has ordered the marina placed on the agenda for discussion at the City Council’s next meeting at 5:30 p.m. Monday. It will be held in the city Conference Center, across Main Street from the police department.

“Let’s not legislate this in the Sea Coast Echo,” Taylor said. “Let’s legislate it at the council table.”

“We’re going forward and we don’t know what we’re doing,” Boudin said. “None of these people, and nobody on the council, has any real marina experience.”

BY: J.R. Welsh

The Sea Coast Echo

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