With a deadline looming and a $4.2 million BP grant on the line to pay for new amenities at the Popp’s Ferry Causeway Park, Mayor Andrew “FoFo” Gilich and Secretary of State Delbert Hosemann toiled Thursday afternoon over a solution to Tidelands issues.
The money will be used to punch up the park that juts into Back Bay adjacent to the Popp’s Ferry Bridge. Proposed are an interpretive center, boardwalks, nature trails, fishing piers, bait stand, concession stand, kayak rentals and perhaps a wildflower meadow.
In May 2013, Gov. Phil Bryant announced $68.9 million in BP money would be used to fund four early restoration projects on the Coast. Other projects funded by the Natural Resource Damage Assessment at that time were construction of 6 miles of living shoreline in Hancock County, new interactive exhibits at Infinity Science Center in Hancock County and a concrete pathway on the Pascagoula Beachfront Promenade in Jackson County.
Hosemann said Thursday he and the city were down to just a few issues to resolve. Gilich wanted a provision that if the state Legislature makes changes to Tidelands law, the lease would terminate, Hosemann said. “I think the mayor was right about that,” he said.
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Gilich also wanted the park to be classified as a small-craft harbor, said Hosemann, who disagreed with that classification.
The City Council removed a resolution from this week’s agenda to ratify the agreement and there was a question of whether the funding would remain in place if the project didn’t progress.
“We faced a March 25 deadline to give notice to proceed to the contractor,” said Vincent Creel, Biloxi public affairs director. The city worked through the issue with the state Department of Marine Resources, he said, and the agency gave Biloxi permission to grant the notice to proceed.
Creel said Biloxi is still working to develop an agreement with Hosemann “that we feel is fair to the taxpayers of Biloxi, who paid $600,000 for this property.”
The city spent an additional $1 million at the park after 2005’s Hurricane Katrina to repair damage, build a concrete promenade, install lighting for night fishing and restore the marsh overlook.
Hosemann said he also is working with Biloxi on a launch site for the Ship Island Ferry between Margaritaville Resort Biloxi and the Great Lawn at Harrah’s Gulf Coast.
“The engineers tell us we can’t do the project as quickly as the mayor and I would both want,” he said. Ferry trips to Ship Island began from Gulfport on Saturday. Hosemann said he’s agreed to lease the site to Biloxi at no cost but said construction of a pier took three months on Ship Island. He’s working with Biloxi on parking issues and said Gilich is seeking a temporary site so ferry service can begin operating soon.
Hosemann said there haven’t been any talks with the owners of Margaritaville Resort to resolve a Tidelands lease on the property south of U.S. 90, where an amusement park is proposed.