Pickering to deliver news on DMR foundation boats

mmnewsom@sunherald.comApril 15, 2013 

Pickering

BILOXI -- State Auditor Stacey Pickering will hold a news conference here today to talk about two boats the Mississippi Marine Resources Foundation owns.

The auditor's office wouldn't release any details Monday about what is to be discussed regarding the two boats, which have been the focus of Sun Herald stories. The news conference will happen at 2:30 p.m. at the Bolton Building on Bayview Avenue, which is where the Mississippi Department of Marine Resources is headquartered.

Pickering will meet with members of the foundation, which is directed by former DMR Executive Director Bill Walker, before the news conference. Walker was fired in January amid ongoing state and federal investigations of the agency's spending during his tenure, which the auditor's office and other agencies are investigating. Walker has denied wrongdoing.

The activities of the foundation, which was created in 2004 under the premise it would support the activities of the DMR, have been placed under scrutiny as the troubles at DMR have been reported. Public money from the DMR has flowed through the foundation, but how much isn't clear.

The Sun Herald has written about the foundation's two recreational fishing boats -- a 36-foot Topaz sport fisherman and a 42-foot Californian convertible. Some have questioned spending hundreds of thousands of public dollars repairing and upgrading the boats. The fishing trips the DMR has taken lawmakers and other influential folks on have been questioned as well. Those trips involved the foundation boats, as well as charters.

The DMR spent more than $1.46 million out of a Rigs to Reefs program fund on upgrades, maintenance and insurance for the two foundation boats. The DMR defends the use of the boats, which it leases from the foundation, saying they are used to educate people through fishing trips to artificial reefs the agency maintains.

Documents the Sun Herald received show other public money has been given to the foundation through thousands in environmental violation fines.

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