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Group will rally to lobby for a clean Mississippi Sound; join them

AMANDA McCOY/SUN HERALDMisty Fiello, research technician with the Southern Miss Gulf Coast Research Lab, tests samples from the beach for enterococci bacteria at GCRL in 2011.
AMANDA McCOY/SUN HERALDMisty Fiello, research technician with the Southern Miss Gulf Coast Research Lab, tests samples from the beach for enterococci bacteria at GCRL in 2011. SUN HERALD

GULFPORT -- Locals know not to go into the water, Sharon Hayes told the Sun Herald.

"We've had four water-contact advisories from the state this week, 23 since the beginning of the year," she said.

That's a big part of why she and others have formed Restore Mississippi Sound, an effort to get the state to spend its BP money on improving water quality. Stop the nutrients flooding into the Sound, Hayes and the group plead with the governor in a letter.

"Over $2 billion from the BP oil spill-related financial settlements are being directed toward restoring the Coast, and at this point very little of that money is targeted at improving water quality in the Sound," they said.

Restore Mississippi Sound is a little organization of residents who are "tired and heartsick about what's going on," Hayes said. It's little, but it's well-connected and growing.

Thursday night's event is a good example. It's a casual meet-and-greet of sorts, beginning at 4 p.m. with a bonfire on the beach at the foot of the Ken Combs Pier near Courthouse Road. It will have speakers and an assessment of the water crisis. The first 150 who arrive will get to nosh on a hot dog.

Everyone will have a chance to sign the letter to the governor.

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"We want clean water in the Sound, healthy aquatic life, tourism and jobs," Hayes said. She will explain to those who attend "who we are, what we are doing and what people can do."

It's a non-partisan group, she said. "These are non-partisan issues."

Hayes is an ecological economist, a 23-year veteran of the EPA. Retired from government work, she teaches economics as an adjunct professor at the University of Southern Mississippi.

She's a scientist as well as an economist. As director of the new group, she has met with the top brass at the state Department of Environmental Quality. The key now is to grow support along the Coast.

Who wants clean water in the Sound?

Who wants to feel safe about swimming there?

In the letter to the governor, Restore points to a report "Testing the Waters: A Guide to Water Quality at Vacation Beaches," published by Natural Resource Defense Council in 2013. It examined the incidence of the bacteria enterococcus, an indicator of fecal coliform (human waste), which is a serious health concern and ubiquitous in the waters of the Sound, she said.

"Mississippi's beaches were near the bottom of the list in terms of old and crumbling wastewater infrastructure, system mismanagement, wastewater overflows during rainfall events, and malfunctioning septic systems all result in non-point discharges from human waste, as well as other household and industrial pollutants into the Sound," she said. "Wastewater-treatment facilities north of the Coast remain idle while upgrades in local systems remain unfunded."

In the meantime, beware of these hot spots on the Coast right now.

MDEQ says in its alert, "These segments of beach are not closed; however, there may be an increased risk of illness associated with swimming in these areas."

n Pass Christian from Fort Henry Avenue to Elliot Street.

n Gulfport from Marie Avenue to Camp Avenue.

n Gulfport from Alfonso Drive to Arkansas Avenue.

n Gulfport from Courthouse Road to Tegarden Road.

n Lakeshore beach from the Silver Slipper Casino to Pointset.

n Buccaneer State Park beach, 100 yards on either side of the sign.

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