‘Curtains’ for the Bay of St. Louis

In a significant lack of solidarity, Bay St. Louis and Hancock County disagreed sharply this week on a decision to build an oil-protection barrier stretching two miles across the Bay of St. Louis.

City officials have fought for nearly five weeks to have the structure built, in efforts to protect interior waters and marshes from any oil that may encroach from the BP Deepwater Horizon gusher. But after state and federal approval was finally gained to begin the project, the president of the county Board of Supervisors strenuously disagreed with the idea on grounds that it will constitute a boating safety hazard.

“The Board of Supervisors does not want to invest in something that’s going to be a bigger hazard than oil,” President Rocky Pullman said at an emergency meeting called over the issue Monday night. He said his board had already voted 4-1 to oppose the plan.

After discussion at the Monday meeting among city and county officials, as well as others from Harrison County, Waveland and Pass Christian, the Bay City Council voted unanimously in favor of the barrier, known as the “Coventry Plan.” It will be constructed at an estimated $3 million cost, although it remained unclear how the project will be funded.

The state Department of Marine Resources and the Corps of Engineers have agreed to allow a 200-foot section to be built as a test of the system. If successful, it will be completed to reach all the way across the mouth of the bay.

The system will consist of pilings placed in a V-shape, stretching from Henderson Point to near the Washington Street pier. Mickey Lagasse, of Compton Engineering, said each piling would stand six feet above the water line at low tide, and would be lighted and carry reflective tape.

Vinyl curtains would stretch between the pilings, attached at the top with hangers and hooks, and running to a depth of three feet from the bottom of the bay
Pullman, a professional tugboat captain, said he fears the system will endanger marine traffic as unknowledgeable pleasure boaters speed in and out of the bay. A simple error on the part of a boat operator could cause casualties, he said.

“It can happen and it will happen,” Pullman said. “We need to think clearly.”

But his protests were overridden by anxious city officials, who are distressed over the imminent approach of oil. This week, oil entered the Mississippi Sound and washed ashore at mainland locations including Pascagoula and Biloxi.

“We’ve got to manage that risk, to protect the Bay,” said Doug Seal, president of the City Council.

Councilwoman Wendy McDonald said the city had no choice but protect citizens by constructing the system.

“This is a moral obligation … to protect them with something that might work,” she said.

Permits for the project had already been issued to the county. The city’s approval vote included a decision to switch permits from the county into the names of the city and Harrison County government.

Harrison County Supervisor Marlin Ladner, whose district includes Pass Christian and Henderson Point, also urged that the barrier be built and the bill sent to BP.

“Build it. Do it,” he said. “If they don’t want to voluntarily give us the money, we’ll go after it one way or another.”

Mayor Les Fillingame, who has negotiated with DMR to have the system built, agreed. “I would say, ‘do it,”‘ he said.

“I think us not doing anything is the worst thing we can do,” said Supervisor Steve Seymour, who was the only one of the five county supervisors to favor plan.

But Pullman remain adamant.

“The Board of Supervisors has voted 4-1 not to support it,” he said. “That means we’re not going to fund it.”

BY: J.R. Welsh

The Sea Coast Echo

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