Residents urged to demand safer, healthier port

GULFPORT

A community advocacy organization has started a campaign to inform residents about a massive port expansion so they can lessen its impact on their neighborhoods, and ensure their families and businesses benefit from the $1 billion project.

Speakers from the Steps Coalition kicked off Partners for a Safe and Healthy Port at a community meeting attended by about 75 residents Thursday evening at the Gaston Point Community Center in West Gulfport.

Port changes raise concerns

Air and water quality, fair prices for property lost to a new port connector road, traffic flow, hurricane evacuation and potential hurricane surge all are concerns residents need to consider now, Steps Coalition speakers said.

James Crowell, who is serving on the Steps Coalition port committee, told residents their participation is needed to help shape the massive port project. “More than likely this is going to happen,” he said, “because there is a lot of money behind it. We should be able to win some concessions from the state because of the problems it’s going to cause.”

Question time is now

He and other coalition members urged residents to arm themselves now with information, rather than waiting until a road is built through their neighborhoods.

Neighborhoods that will be most directly affected include The Quarters, the Seabee Base, Gaston Point, Villa del Ray, North Gulfport and Soria City.

More ships, bigger ships

The $1 billion expansion plans would almost triple, or perhaps even quadruple, the port and deepen the ship channel. The port would be able to handle much larger ships and more of them, with rail, truck and other vehicle traffic increasing as well. A new connector road from Interstate 10 to the beach and an upgraded rail system are included.

Also, the port would be elevated to 25 feet. It would extend as much as 11,000 feet — the length of more than 36 football fields — into the Mississippi Sound.

Potential for jobs

The port expansion and an expanded port also will create job opportunities. The state has dedicated to the port project $570 million in federal grant money supplied for Katrina recovery.

Lessons learned from L.A.

Attorney Reilly Morse said residents need to make sure the state meets federal requirements that came with that money, including jobs for residents.

He also said he had spoken with groups working to improve the Port of Los Angeles. They said Coast residents are fortunate they have the opportunity to make a difference on the front end. Permitting for port expansion is expected to take three to five years.

Officials open to dialogue

State representatives from the port and Mississippi Development Authority expressed willingness Friday to work with residents.

“I’m certainly glad they’ve decided to join the effort to make this a safer port that’s better able to withstand a Katrina-like storm,” said Lee Youngblood, spokesman for the Mississippi Development Authority. “Making this a safer, more modern port is exactly why this $570 million was appropriated in the first place.” 

By ANITA LEE – calee@sunherald.com

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