D'Iberville's $3 million grant frozen for review

DEQ wants documents detailing expenditures for Ocean Expo project

meperez@sunherald.comFebruary 8, 2013 

D'IBERVILLE -- The Mississippi Department of Environmental Quality wants to see how D'Iberville is spending a $3 million BP grant for Ocean Expo and has directed the city to stop work and supply documents showing how any grant money was distributed.

The stop-work order was issued Jan. 28, said Robbie Wilbur, DEQ communications director.

That was a day after a Sun Herald story detailed how then-City Manager Michael Janus entered into a contract -- without the knowledge of the City Council -- to hire Maxwell-Walker Consulting Group to secure a BP grant for D'Iberville.

Janus announced Tuesday he was taking an unpaid leave of absence. Sharron Perkins, who was appointed interim city manager Thursday, said the directive from the DEQ came while Janus was still working.

"As the city just received the stop order this week, we have not had time yet to gather the documentation and submit it to MDEQ," she said.

The stop-work order is in effect for 90 days or until the city receives further notification from the DEQ.

The deadline to spend the grant is July 1.

Mayor Rusty Quave said the city is waiting to hear what will happen with the grant, and said he hopes the city and Ocean Expo won't be penalized.

Conflict-of-interest clause

Included in the sub-grant agreement is a clause that D'Iberville should notify the DEQ in writing of any conflict of interest. Janus said he did not contact the agency when Quave, a contract employee of the state Department of Marine Resources, voted to approve the docket of claims that included a bill to pay Maxwell-Walker the $180,000 fee. Scott Walker is a partner in the firm and is the son of Quave's then-boss, Bill Walker, who has since been fired as head of DMR.

Janus and Scott Walker also are business partners.

Janus said Scott Walker approached him and said he might be able to get a grant for the city. Janus had written three letters in eight months to then-Gov. Haley Barbour asking for money to cover some of the city's costs for Ocean Expo, with no results.

Three letters to Barbour

In the first letter Dec. 6, 2010, Janus asked for Barbour's help to secure a $4 million Katrina Supplemental Community Development Block Grant. Janus said the city agreed, in the bid to attract Ocean Expo, to construct the infrastructure to pipe salt water from the Back Bay to the Ocean Expo site, build an access road and install water and sewer.

In the second letter, dated March 21, 2011, Janus said the city had covered $2.47 million of the land cost with an additional $4.5 million outstanding. The letter, sent on behalf of Quave and copied to Bill Walker, identified the DMR as a potential funding source.

"Currently, Dr. Bill Walker with the DMR has a pool of funds under his management, and your ultimate control, that would appear to be squarely appropriate for this project," the letter said. "These funds are derived from the Gulf of Mexico Energy Security Act (GOMESA) and we respectfully ask that you allow Dr. Walker to release $4.5M to our city to be utilized solely for the acquisition of property for the aquarium project. The GOMESA program is designed to enhance marine education and environmental stewardship; the same goals which the Ocean Expo Aquarium has adopted."

The third letter, sent to Barbour on July 26, 2011, said the city had approved a $4 million bond to cover a portion of the land cost. "However, we still have a funding gap regarding land acquisition as we need an additional $2.9M to compete the transaction," the letter said, "and this is where I would like to ask the state for assistance." Janus asked for $2.9 million from GOMESA to buy the property.

Maxwell-Walker was hired sometime after the last letter, Janus said, and the city was notified Dec. 2, 2011, it would receive the $3 million grant.

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