Archive for March, 2011

Oyster Fest canceled

March 30, 2011

The second annual Oyster Fest scheduled for this Saturday was canceled Tuesday after event coordinators learned the city would not provide employees for the event.

Oyster Fest is hosted by the Waveland Community Coalition (WCC), which also organizes Wave Fest.

Last year’s Oyster Fest at the Garfield Ladner Pier drew more than 5,000 people to the city. For this year’s event, an even bigger crowd was expected, WCC President Charlie Cornelius said Tuesday.

“Last year, we threw the festival together in two weeks,” he said. “This year, we were planning to have about 40 vendors and three bands.”

City leaders had already agreed that fire department personnel did not need to be staged at the event since the department headquarters is only a few blocks away on Coleman Avenue.

Cornelius said he gathered from a meeting two months ago that the city was going to provide police and public works employees for the festival.

Last week, however, he said he was informed that WCC would have to pay for its own security.

WCC agreed to hire one of the police officers at an overtime rate, and the city agreed to have patrol officers available if needed at the event, Cornelius said.

On Monday, Cornelius said he had called to set up the public works employees and was told that they would not be free either.

Mayor David Garcia said Tuesday that the cash-strapped city just could not afford to pay overtime to any employees for the festival.

“We gave them the option to hire private people or pay for our employees to work the festival,” Garcia said.

Last year, a similar problem arose when the board of aldermen refused to fund services for Wave Fest after it was changed to a two-day event. The services were eventually funded by the Silver Slipper Casino.

Garcia said the cost for two public works employees working overtime for 12 hours would be a total of about $400.

“It’s just not Waveland’s place to provide workers to dump garbage cans at all of these festivals,” Garcia said.

Other local festivals, such as the Crab Fest, get free labor from Hancock County, which supplies inmates to clean and pick up trash.

Cornelius said asking the county for inmates was never discussed, nor did WCC seek volunteers to pick up the trash.

“We have never had inmates at any of the events,” he said.

He said the timing of the decision forced WCC’s hand, and it had “no choice” but to cancel the festival. In fact, he said, he had three people call him Monday evening and offer to pay for the services needed, but it was already “too late.”

He said it is “very disappointing” that the city did not want to take a more active role in the festival, especially since the festival benefits Waveland.

“We don’t have our name on the festival,” he said. “It’s the Waveland Oyster Fest, not the Waveland Community Coalition Oyster Fest. We wanted the city to be a partner in this. We do it for the city.”

Waveland’s financial problems of late have been well-documented. Earlier this year, the city implemented the former administration’s budget and laid-off more than a dozen employees. Waveland is also facing 10 federal lawsuits, and other legal challenges.

Cornelius said the city would have gotten much more in return than the $1,500 or so it was asked to provide for the festival.

“I understand everyone’s financial situation,” Cornelius said. “These festivals draw people to the city.”

Garcia said he does not understand why the festival had to be canceled over such a small amount of money.

“I don’t know how two men’s pay for one day is going to make you cancel the festival,” he said. “They (WCC) are a private organization, and we don’t get into telling them how to operate.”

Cornelius said this year’s cancellation will not hinder Wave Fest scheduled for this summer, and he hopes to have Oyster Fest return next year.

He said the WCC stands to lose $2,000-$3,000 on the event, since posters were already created and deposits already paid to the scheduled bands.

“I hope that this encourages a better understanding of how festivals have to be processed, planned and organized,” Cornelius said. “Like any other business, you lose money every time there’s a delay.”

BY: Dwayne Bremer
The Sea Coast Echo

Improper Property

March 30, 2011

A threat to condemn two of Bay St. Louis’ most prominent eyesores may bear results, the city council learned recently, but nobody seems to be holding their breath.

The Louisiana-based owner of the old Knights of Columbus building at 315 Main St. had a crew in town this week to work on the building, which has stood neglected for several years, evoking frustration by city officials and Old Town residents as well.

The old hall is owned by Mark Madary, a former St. Bernard Parish, La. councilman who also ran unsuccessfully for the Louisiana Legislature.

And at the corner of Beach Boulevard and Ulman Avenue, the hulking Hotel Reed may be disappearing, Mayor Les Fillingame said. No timeframe on that possibility was announced, but Fillingame asked the council to hold off on enforcement action against the building’s owner.

Neighbors have complained for years about the two buildings, particularly Hotel Reed, a former hotel that was later operated as a nursing home. Neighborhood residents have repeatedly complained about vagrants staying in the building, along with bats, rats, and other vermin. The structure remains vacant and in a shambles, and the city has even been forced to insist that the grounds be mowed.

On one occasion, police were called in when vagrants reportedly looted the building and scattered medical and billing records from former patients around the neighborhood.

When the city’s new zoning code was passed, the property was rezoned to accommodate a boutique hotel. However, nothing has been done by the owner, Gulfport and Stone County businessman Ted Cain.

At a city council workshop on March 21, Ward 2 Councilwoman Wendy McDonald – whose ward includes both buildings – again raised the issue of the derelict properties. McDonald said if the owners don’t act, she is ready to move on condemnation proceedings and have both buildings demolished.

She added that Hotel Reed also stands to lose its current zoning status, if inactivity persists on the property.

“He needs to move on,” McDonald said of Cain. “Eventually, we may lose our enthusiasm for that property to be commercial.”

But when the council met again the next night, Fillingame said he had discussed the issue with Cain, who promised to have the building torn down soon. The owner “is still interested in putting together a project there,” Fillingame said. “He is ready to demolish it. I don’t think we need to pursue any enforcement action there.”

Council members agreed not to take further steps at present on the Hotel Reed case. As for the K of C building, Tommy Kidd, who handles litter enforcement for both the city and Hancock County, told the council that the building’s owner was obtaining a permit to renovate the property.

“He’s ready to get started,” Kidd said.

BY: JR Welsh
The Sea Coast Echo

Bay agrees to help fund BridgeFest

March 30, 2011

The Hancock County Chamber of Commerce will be getting another $5,000 this year from Bay St. Louis to help fund Bridge Fest, but this time it took some talking.

“I thought we weren’t going to do this any more,” Councilman Bill Taylor said when Chamber Director Tish Williams approached the City Council last week asking that the city contribute the same amount it gave in 2010 for the festival.

Williams said Bridge Fest was so successful last year that it has been expanded this year, running May 21-22. As many as 250 vendors may rent booths at the event, she said. Booths are renting for $150 each. Several other public and private sponsors are also providing $5,000 donations, Williams said.

The festival began as a one-time celebration to mark the opening of the new Bay bridge after Hurricane Katrina, then became an annual event.

Taylor’s comment grew from a feeling by some council members that the city has already been more than generous to the chamber, having given the group virtually free, full-time use of the former City Hall Annex building on Court Street for its headquarters. The chamber recently threw a party when it moved into the building, for which it pays the city annual rent of $1.

Before the chamber took it over, the city spent nearly $600,000 in federal funds to renovate the annex, which had been damaged by Katrina.

In making her Bridge Fest request, Williams told council members it cost $50,000 to stage last year’s festival.

“We are taking a risk to even do the festival,” she said. “Without your sponsorship, we won’t be able to move forward and cover the cost.” Payments for entertainment and sound equipment alone last year cost $25,000, Williams added.

However, Taylor said, “I thought our donation (to the chamber) was going to be as a tenant in the old Annex on Court Street.” And he added: “I have to ask … we’re spending taxpayers’ money.”

Mayor Les Fillingame supported the chamber’s funding request. “Bridge Fest is quickly becoming our signature event,” he said.

Williams’ request passed 5-0, with council members Wendy McDonald and Joey Boudin recusing themselves. Even though he did vote in favor, Ward 3 Councilman Jeff Reed told Williams, “I do hope to see a time when you will be able to stand on your own.”

BY: JR Welsh

The Sea Coast Echo

Kiln leaders fear bypass project will kill business

March 30, 2011

In the past five years, the Kiln community has seen increased growth and development in the wake of Hurricane Katrina, but business owners in the community say all the growth may be for naught, if a new bypass highway is built.

The group, Kiln Business Council, is holding a meeting at the Kiln Library Thursday at 5:30 p.m.

“We are trying to stop this,” Roland “Boobie” Cuevas of Cuevas Auctions said Tuesday. “This bypass is not good for Hancock or Pearl River counties.”

The proposed bypass is part of a $35 million MDOT project aimed at providing an additional evacuation route and relieving traffic congestion in the area.

The funding for the project is part of the Ground Zero Action plan, which gave Hancock County $200 million for Hurricane Katrina recovery projects.

MDOT engineer Kelly Castelberry said Tuesday that MDOT would like to see a new highway which connects interstates 59 and 10.

“We have an issue with traffic congestion in Kiln,” Castelberry said. “Linking the two interstates would provide an additional evacuation route and spur economic development.”

MDOT is currently weighing the merits of two proposed bypasses which would begin where Highway 603 turns near the Stennis Drive.

The first proposal has the bypass moving west of the current highway directly to Pearl River County. The bypass would not reconnect with Highway 43 until near the Salem Community.

The second bypass travels east of the current highway and links up with Highway 43 at the current 603/43 junction.

Cuevas said both bypasses would be bad for the community, but the first option is the worst.

Under that proposal, all of the businesses along the highway on Highway 603 and 43 would see a diminished amount of traffic, he said.

“We don’t want them to take our traffic,” he said. “All we would be left with is our mortgages.”

Even worse, he said, the new bypass is planned to be a non-egress road, meaning there would be limited places to turn around.

“If someone driving the road would see a business from behind, it may be miles before they could turn around,” Cuevas said.

Castelberry said all of the factors surrounding the road are being taken into consideration before a final decision is made.

“We are trying to determine how many homes, farms, and businesses will be affected by either route,” he said.

“Right now, we are doing an environmental impact study. All of those factors are part of the study.”

Castelberry said he does not expect the study to be complete for at least another year, and before any final decision is made, hearings will be held to gather public input and gauge opinion.

Once all the public input is acquired, a “Record of Decision” will be rendered and the road will be constructed, he said.

“It could be one route, it could be another, it could be a combination,” he said. “The public will be informed about what is taking place.”

Cuevas said his group will push for a widening of Highway 603, rather than a bypass of the community.

“A bypass road killed all of the mom-and-pop stores in Picayune in the ’60s,” he said. “We don’t want that happening here.”

BY: Dwayne Bremer
The Sea Coast Echo

Oil spill is still affecting local wildlife, beach

March 30, 2011

Almost a year after the fatal accident which caused the massive Gulf of Mexico oil spill, Hancock County’s beaches and marshlands are continuing to feel the effects on a daily basis.

Hancock County Emergency Management Director Brian “Hootie” Adam said Tuesday that he has seen an increase in oil-related materials in recent weeks.

“We are continuing to find things on the beaches,” Adam said. “We walk and ride the beach all the time, and we check the out-falls every day.”

Adam said most of the oil-related items are being found west of the Waveland city limits.

“We’re finding tar balls in the out-falls every day,” Adam said. “I don’t know where they are coming from, but they keep coming.”

On the beaches, some tar balls continue to wash in with the tide, while others are being discovered underneath the sand.

More alarming, Adam said, EMA workers have discovered nine dead sea turtles and a dead baby dolphin in the past week.

The dead animals are taken away by the National Resource Agency, but what happens to them afterwards is a mystery, he said.

“I don’t know what happens to the animals,” Adam said. “I assume they are being tested. We are used to seeing dead animals on the beach such as catfish and crabs, but this many turtles and dolphins? I don’t know.”

Adam said BP is continuing to work the beaches with clean-up crews.

Meanwhile, residents have once again begun fishing and crabbing in the area, now that the beach road is mostly complete.

Adam said he has not received any reports of bad seafood, and the Department of Marine Resources continues to monitor Gulf seafood for any signs of contamination.

Adam said he also wants people to be aware that although the beaches are still open, they may come in contact with oil-related materials.

Anyone who comes in contact with any suspicious substances on the beach can call the EMA at 228-466-8620.

By: Dwayne Bremer
The Sea Coast Echo