Federal and state agencies have agreed to set aside forever 1,638 acres in the heart of Gulfport just south of Interstate 10. The agreement, struck in 2009, has come as a surprise to many.
The Environmental Protection Agency and Mississippi Department of Transportation agreed to the conservation easement to alleviate flooding in the Turkey Creek watershed, which stretches from North Gulfport and the Turkey Creek Community into Long Beach.
MDOT is offering the easement because 162 acres of wetlands will be destroyed to build a port connector road from Interstate 10 to the port.
Mayor George Schloegel believes the conservation easement is overkill. He thinks high ground within the easement should be developed commercially along the interstate from U.S. 49 to Canal Road, where the connector will come in.
EPA points out that the connector will lead to more growth that, without the easement, would only exacerbate flooding in Gulfport neighborhoods. An EPA employee co-authored this article that details how and why the agreement came about.
Rose Johnson of North Gulfport is a community advocate who has worked long and hard with others to see the easement granted.
"We asked (EPA) to protect our community and told them we were not getting cooperation from our local and state government." Johnson said in an interview Tuesday evening. We wanted the federal government to come in and protect our community."
She said residents have a right to be protected from flooding. They also would love to see Turkey Creek once again clean enough for fishing and swimming. Back in the day, churches even baptized members in the creek.
It was a source of food for the poor and recreation for blacks barred during segregation from the Mississippi Sound's sandy beaches.
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Here's the conservation easement: