Mississippi Secretary of State Michael Watson discusses the public trust tidelands and gives an $11.2 million check to Department of Marine Resources Executive Director Joe Spraggins at Bolton Auditorium in Biloxi, Miss. on Tuesday, Sept. 21, 2021. (Hunter Dawkins/The Gazebo Gazette via AP)

by Hunter Dawkins, Publisher

Multiple concerns have arisen from all government levels since the destruction of the Long Beach Harbor by Hurricane Zeta in October 2020, but the state and local have different points of view on fixing it.  Several state funding procedures have and will be used to correct the damage done reportedly.
Mississippi State House Representative Richard Bennett spoke first on the funding delivered to Long Beach by the state.  “Long Beach received $400,000 from the Tidelands Trust Fund this year,” said Bennett.  “$375,000 of the money did not go through the city of Long Beach, but rather the county because it is more equipped to use this money.”
The Tidelands Trust Fund program began in 1994, setup by the Mississippi State Legislature.  Its mission is to carry out state policy by balancing the interests of upland private property owners and the general public over the use of public trust tidelands and submerged land of the state under Title 29, Section 15 as administered by the Secretary of State’s office.
The $11.2 million check was delivered to the Mississippi Department of Marine Resources by Secretary Michael Watson, in which the agency delivered $6.8 million of these funds to municipalities of the three coastal counties for projects.
Long Beach was only granted $25,000 under the distribution chart given by the secretary of state for harbor improvements, but according to Bennett, Long Beach citizens are getting $400,000.
“Long Beach has received probably more money in Tidelands than anybody on the Coast,” said Bennett, but he went further stating that sometimes this happens.  “Lots of the money that would normally go to architects and engineers, these funds would go straight to the project and not professional services.”
At the release of records from the city of Long Beach, they have $1.855 million along with the $25,000 from this year’s tidelands funds that has been unused.
In response from the head of the “Friendly City”; Mayor George Bass, the money is being saved and there are different ways to fix the harbor outside of state money.
“We have tried for years to accumulate this money up, but we got hit badly by Hurricane Zeta,” conveyed Bass, who was the former city fire chief and emergency management director for the city.   “Every one of the citizens in Long Beach pays county taxes so we are part of the county.”
In regards to the $375,000 of public tidelands being delivered through the county, Bass acknowledged “The city of Long Beach doesn’t own the Pavilion, that’s the county’s” and “People tend to forget that we could use their engineering department to help us or perhaps we could their services to come in and help us which has happened in the past, Dr. Marlin Ladner has worked tremendously with us.”
The secondary option is the Gulf of Mexico Energy Security Act of 2006 that created a revenue sharing model for oil and gas producing states.  Under this act, Mississippi receives a portion of the revenue generated from oil and gas production offshore in the Gulf of Mexico.
On June 2, 2021, Mississippi Governor Tate Reeves delivered a $2.18 million check from the GOMESA Funds to build a new bulkhead wall protecting the harbor and structures inside the area damaged from Hurricane Zeta.
Representative Bennett acknowledged that these funds were given to be used for the harbor.  “Long Beach received over $2 million in GOMESA funds where other cities did not get that, going into the harbor.”  According to Bennett, the city has received $463,559.85 for the last two amounts of legislative permission to pay from the Tidelands along with the GOMESA funding provided by the governor.
Bottom line from the mayor is that the city was happy to receive any money from the state or federal to help build the harbor back.  An unofficial estimation by city officials, the port would cost over $20 million to reconstruct.
“I’m happy to get anything we can get from the state and happy to get money from any sources,” commented Mayor Bass.  “We’re working with the federal government to get another grant outside of FEMA money and it takes time when dealing with the federal government.”
The mayor said the city is waiting on the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) to issue a letter for an obligated project worksheet which spells out the work that needs to be done.  “We have to separate regular debris from construction debris to move forward.”
Mayor Bass concluded from 2018 by saying that moving forward the city has been trying to save, including the $25,000 from this year and having $1.855 million in storage.  This funding has to be spent for the matches in rebuilding the harbor.