A challenge to Biloxi’s plan to lease waterfront land was filed Friday by Secretary of State Delbert Hosemann before the 10-day deadline expired.
The appeal was filed in Harrison County Circuit Court at about 4 p.m.
In a statement, Hosemann said he spoke with Biloxi Mayor Andrew “FoFo” Gilich about the issue.
“I have offered a rent-exempt lease to the City of Biloxi for the pier,” Hosemann said, “and the Secretary of State’s Office is not opposed to, and is in fact in favor of, a public pier at this site.”
Hosemann said, “The State of Mississippi and all of its citizens owns the property south of the seawall as Public Trust Tidelands held in trust with the Secretary of State, who is granted the legislative authority to lease. Our office always works with the cities on the One Coast and have raised over $100 million in tidelands funds for expenditure in the three coastal counties.”
Vincent Creel, Biloxi public affairs director, said after learning of the lawsuit, “It’s a shame that it has come to this point.”
Creel said Hosemann traditionally uses tidelands money, most of it generated by casinos in Biloxi, to fight the city.
On July 2, Biloxi City Council unanimously passed a lease option agreement with RW Development, owned by Ray Wooldridge.
Under the lease option, RW would rebuild a public municipal pier, which was destroyed by hurricanes, at the end of Veterans Avenue.
Mississippi Gaming Commission has denied RW Development permission for casino site approval on the adjacent property three times since 2008 because the company doesn’t control property to the water’s edge. An appeal of the third decision is still in court.
Creel said the pier lease is about replacing the pier and is not about a new casino.
Yet the words “contiguous” and “integral part” are in both the city lease with RW and Rule 1.4 of Mississippi Casino regulations used to determine casino site approval.
The lease says the pier will promote recreation, boating fishing and other economic development purposes of the Public Trust for Tidelands, “all of which are an integral part of RW’s plans for development of its contiguous parcels.”
Rule 1.4 says: “The applicant or licensee must own and/or lease the land that is contiguous both to the parcel used to conduce gaming and the point of reference used to determined the mean high water line, and it must be shone to be an integral part of the project.”
Exactly where casinos would be allowed in South Mississippi was to be made clear by a map the state Legislature approved in 2018.
House Concurrent Resolution 85 said “efficiency and transparency would be improved if a map existed to determine eligibility of a proposed licensed gaming location on the Mississippi Coast.”
It directed the executive directors of the Mississippi Gaming Commission, the Joint Legislative Committee on Performance Evaluation and Expenditure Review (PEER), the Mississippi Department of Marine Resources, and the Secretary of State to develop a map for areas eligible under state law for a casino to be built.
Hosemann said the map hasn’t yet been completed, but he hopes it will be finished in time for the start of the next Legislative session in January.