STATEMENT FROM THE 12 MILES SOUTH COALITION:
Public Comments on Oil and Gas Drilling Show Overwhelming Opposition
Gulfport, MS – On Wednesday, the Mississippi Development Authority (MDA) released public comments that show overwhelming opposition to their proposal to open up Mississippi waters to oil and gas drilling. Responding to a public records request by the 12 Mile South Coalition, the MDA acknowledged receiving 138 comments (excluding spam), and only eight were explicitly in support of the proposal. Over 85% of the comments were in opposition, or made requests for an extension of the comment period, or some combination thereof.
“The members of the public have spoken clearly. This proposal is a bad bet for the coastal economy, the health of the Sound, and the future of Mississippi’s barrier islands,” said Louis Skrmetta with the Mississippi Gulf Coast Attractions Association. “Is the Mississippi coast going to be an oil rig destination, like Dauphin Island, or are we going to be a premier tourist destination like Florida? We can’t have both.”
All requests for extending the public comment period on the proposal were denied, despite the fact that several of the comments that MDA received were from state or federal officials, including Mississippi Attorney General Jim Hood, State Senator Deborah Dawkins, State Representative Bobby Moak, State Representative David Baria, State Representative Randall Patterson, and the National Park Service (NPS).
“This is an outrage and insulting not only to the public, but to our elected officials who have voiced concerns about a rush to judgment on these rules before the public has had an opportunity to properly review them,” said Louie Miller, State Director of the Mississippi Sierra Club.
One letter from NPS, the agency in charge of Gulf Islands National Seashore, reveals that MDA never directly contacted NPS about the proposal despite claims to the contrary:
“Your letter indicated that contact was made with National Park Service (NPS) Regional Director Cynthia Donner, however, Ms. Donner is the Regional Director for the Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS), not NPSTo our knowledge, NPS was not directly contacted and we learned of the proposed regulations after the holidays through a press release which was provided to us by one of our staff members”
It also appears that MDA failed to release all of the comments they received. The release does not include any of the comments delivered at a public hearing in Gautier, and even though other written comments from agencies and groups like the NPS, National Parks Conservation Association, Gulf Restoration Network, Gulf Islands Conservancy, and Sierra Club are listed in an index of comments received, their comments were not included in the MDA release.
“I submitted eight pages of detailed and specific comments via email, and while my email is listed in a table of responses in the MDA public records release, I don’t see my email or eight pages of comments,” said Don Abrams, a resident of Ocean Springs, “Now I’m uncertain whether my input is being considered.”
In another one of the unreleased letters, Daniel Brown of the National Park Service pointed out that “[t]he Mississippi islands are among the most pristine examples of intact coastal barrier ecosystems remainingOne of the primary attractions is the opportunity to enjoy unencumbered scenic view sheds of the Gulf of Mexico, the night sky and other recreational attributes” And the letter concludes by stating that “the NPS opposes final development and subsequent issuance of the proposed rules for offshore seismic surveying and minerals leasing within Mississippi state waters, as these proposed rules are written.”
The stakes are high both environmentally and economically, yet in their rush to push this proposal, MDA has clearly failed to recognize the extent of public opposition and adequately address the concerns of the public, and state and federal officials.
“The Mississippi Development Authority simply cannot, in good faith, approve oil and gas drilling in Mississippi’s water,” said Raleigh Hoke, Mississippi Organizer for the Gulf Restoration Network.