by Hunter Dawkins

After discussing four federal and state legislation with the city of Biloxi attorney Gerald Blessey, the Harrison County Board of Supervisors terminated the Hanger-Use Agreement after reviewing the lowest and best bid from a Reverse Auction.  The old agreement had the county do business with Roy Anderson Construction and Southern Company whereas the county chose to go in another direction with use of the Gulfport airport.

The Harrison County Board of Supervisors on Monday approved the following appointments:  Coastal Mississippi Board of Commissioners –  Mary Cracchiolo Spain (At large), Shirley Dane (District 2), Kim Fritz (District 5 reappointed).  Gulf Regional Planning Commission appointees were:  Marlin Ladner (Transportation Policy Committee elected official) and Jaci Turner (Technical Coordinating Committee) while the South Mississippi Planning and Development District named Connie Rockco (Board of Directors elected official), Marlin Ladner (Twin Districts Workforce Area elected supervisor), Eric Chambless (Private sector nominee) and John Johnson (Minority nominee).

Final appointments from the board were:  Harrison County Development Commission – Windy Swetman (District 5), Harrison County Planning Commission – Eddie Hartwell Sr. (District 4 reappointed) & Mikel Gusa (District 2 reappointed), and the Mississippi Coliseum and Convention Center Commission – Linda Hornsby (District 1 reappointed).

With a brief overview from the County Engineer and Comptroller, an adoption of a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) with the Mississippi Department of Transportation (MDOT) was given for the replacement of the Cuevas DeLisle Bridge in Pass Christian where Harrison County authorized opening a new bank account with the Peoples Bank in accordance with this project.

In other actions, payment was approved for $1086.75 to the Pass Christian School District for an annual rent of the 16th Section lease for storage site, an order rescinding the December claim to adjudicate the employment of legal counsel to represent the Harrison County Sheriff’s Office in certain litigation matters, and an authorization for the city of Long Beach use of county equipment during September events on the terms of the Interlocal government cooperation agreement.

Earlier in the meeting,the Harrison County Board of Supervisors, as members of the Mississippi Sound Coalition approved a resolution requesting the state’s legislators and Congressional Delegation support a law to help prevent further damage from the opening of the Bonnet Carre Spillway in Louisiana.

Harrison County District 3 Supervisor Marlin Ladner represents Harrison County as the coalition’s chairman.

The Mississippi Sound and Lake Ponchartrain Protection Act of 2020 would ensure that local and state leaders would have a seat at the table with the U.S. Army Corp. of Engineers when it comes to decision making regarding the Bonnet Carre Spillway.

Biloxi attorney Gerald Blessey, who manages the coalition, said the protection act would provide several provisions and precautionary measures should discussions begin regarding opening the Louisiana-based spillway.

“The Mississippi Sound and Lake Ponchartrain Protection Act is to request Congress to enact a federal law that would do several things,” Blessey said. “It would require a seat at the table for the State of Mississippi on the Mississippi River Commission, which is the body that decides what happens on the Mississippi River. The U.S. Army Corp. of Engineers advises the Mississippi River Commission.  This would give a lay member from Mississippi that is nominated by the governor and appointed by the president. It would give us someone there when the discussions are happening. It also states that all counties and cities on the Mississippi Gulf Coast must be notified before they open the Bonnet Carre Spillway or anything else that may affect the Mississippi Sound.”

Blessey said the act would also require a new environmental impact study to be done on the Bonnet Carre Spillway to be completed within two years.

“The last impact study was done in 1976 and a lot has happened since then,” he said. “Under federal law, the environmental impact that exists says that all alternatives should be considered and if it has to be opened again, how can they mitigate? It would be a way to see how the Mississippi River is managed.”

The Bonnet Carre Spillway is located near Norco, Louisiana in St. Charles Parish. It was opened twice in 2019, sending a tremendous amount of fresh water into the Mississippi Sound.

“It was devastating to our seafood industry,” he said. It was also very deadly to our marine life, especially our marine mammals.”

The opening of the Bonnet Carre Spillway also had a major impact on the area’s tourism economy. The presence of blue-green algae in the summer of 2019 caused the issuing of water contact warnings for all of the beaches along the 26 miles of Harrison County Sand Beach. The presence of the algae was direct the result of the high amount of freshwater in the Mississippi Sound.  Coastal Mississippi estimates the tourism industry took a loss of about $33.5 million. The Mississippi Department of Marine Resources estimates the loss to the area’s seafood industry to be about $169 million.