After exchanging a couple of letters criticizing one another, the chairman of the Commission on Marine Resources and the chairman of the state Senate committee that deals with the Department of Marine Resources reached something of a truce
Jimmy Taylor, who recently announced he will leave the commission when his term ends this summer, wrote Sen. Brice Wiggins on Wednesday, complaining about a letter Wiggins wrote earlier this month contained "considerable incorrect information."
"I called Chairman Taylor late this afternoon after receiving his letter and we had a good conversation," Wiggins wrote in an email Wednesday. "While I disagree with his interpretation of certain facts, I understand his position, and feel like he understood what I was requesting."
At issue is concrete pilings from the old Margaritaville casino site that is being torn down on U.S. 90 in Biloxi. DMR will get the pilings free of charge but will contract to have them hauled to the Katrina Key reef site south of Deer Island and to a storage site leased by DMR.
"You alleged we have sufficient concrete to last four years for building and maintaining reefs," Taylor wrote in his letter. "This is not correct. Over half of the current inventory is scheduled for use this year.
"The remainder is to be used to replenish and enhance existing reefs including oyster habitat due to subsidence, excessive fresh water and tropical activity. We need a continuous resupply and stockpile of concrete rubble to assure continuity of our citizen's reefs."
Taylor also said he was "distressed that you would attempt to hijack the 'Rigs to Reef Funds' program for the MDMR's 'Seafood Fund' in your bill without any discussions with the commissioners."
Wiggins bill, SB 2579, would abolish the Artificial Reef Program Account and put that money in the Seafood Fund. Wiggins said the purpose was to have better oversight over that money, which was tied to the scandal that led to a guilty plea in a conspiracy case against former Executive Director Bill Walker. That bill has passed the Senate and is awaiting action by the House.
"We both agreed that more oversight and accountability is warranted and that structural changes to the agency should be looked at to effectively fulfill its mission, especially since Hurricane Katrina, the BP Oil spill and passage of the RESTORE Act," Wiggins said. The RESTORE Act is a federal bill that would turn over to states affected by the BP oil disaster money received from the oil company to repair the damage. "In short, Chairman Taylor and I are trying to get DMR to the same place, it is just, how do we get there?I look forward to working with him and anyone else to ensure that the agency fulfills its mission and respects the spending of taxpayers' money."
Taylor seemed most upset that Wiggins would question moves by the DMR without first talking to commissioners or DMR officials.
"I never knew anything he was talking about," Taylor said before talking to Wiggins on the phone. "He's never talked to the commission."
He said getting the pilings is a good deal.
"Concrete is a very valuable thing," he said. "You just can't go out and get it, you have to get it when it's available."
The DMR has been involved in building artificial reefs for years, using money from the state tidelands leases and the Rigs to Reef program to sustain it. Energy companies donate old rigs to the Rigs to Reef program and pay to maintain them as fishing reefs. Taylor pointed at that the operating budget appropriated by the state cannot be used to buy reef material.