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Lt. Gov. Reeves’ meeting unleashes flood of ideas for BP money

Gulfport Councilwoman Ella Holmes-Hines tells Lt. Gov. Tate Reeves how she would like to see the BP money received for economic damages spent as she addresses a group of a couple hundred interested residents during a town hall meeting Thursday, at the Lyman Community Center.
Gulfport Councilwoman Ella Holmes-Hines tells Lt. Gov. Tate Reeves how she would like to see the BP money received for economic damages spent as she addresses a group of a couple hundred interested residents during a town hall meeting Thursday, at the Lyman Community Center. amccoy@sunherald.com

The BP settlement for economic damages — $750 million over 17 years — seemed like a lot of money.

But then Lt. Gov. Tate Reeves asked the people of the three coastal counties how best to spend it.

He got his first answers Thursday at the Lyman Community Center when probably a couple hundred people showed up. Their list of ideas was long.

There were specific requests — money for the Great Southern Golf Club in Gulfport and Hiller Park in Biloxi. And some were broad — clean the water in the Mississippi Sound or fix the infrastructure.

Few had a price tag. Ralph Humphries did. He filed project No. 10 in the program that would produce the 2012 Go Coast 2020 report. He wanted $100,000 a year for a couple of years to replace money the coastal cities had been giving the Gulf Coast Fishing Banks, which helps the state Department of Marine Resources deploy and maintain fishing reefs.

Most wrote their ideas on note cards provided by Reeves’ office. Biloxi attorney Gerald Blessey was a little more expansive. He came with numerous copies of a fact sheet and proposed legislation. The gist of that idea, which he said grew out of a meeting of Coast mayors, is to put the money into a perpetual trust fund that would be used to give financial assistance to local governments, educational and research institutions, public-private partnerships and local entities. He said that financial assistance should yield a reasonable return on investment back to the fund.

Pass Christian attorney Henry “Tut” Kinney said it should be used to retire government debt. He advised lawmakers to not be like a family that wins the lottery and uses the money for flat-screen TVs, vacations and riding lawnmowers but doesn’t pay down its mortgage.

He also took a shot at economic-development incentives such as those given TopShip at the Inland Port in Gulfport.

“We know how bad an idea that was,” he said. “Do not feed at the trough of economic development.”

One thing that garnered general agreement was the desire that most — preferably all — the money should be spent in the three Coast counties.

Reeves would not commit to a certain split of the money between the Coast and the rest of the state. That, he said, would make it harder to negotiate in Jackson.

“My goal is to spend the vast majority on the Mississippi Gulf Coast,” he said. “My number tonight is 100 percent of the money.”

Other requests heard at the meeting:

▪ A Mississippi Centennial Renaissance Garden

▪ Indoor swimming pools and swimming lessons

▪ Restore the ecology

▪ Some type of center for children

▪ Fix sewer problems that pollute the Sound

▪ Bolster the state Department of Environmental Quality

▪ More entertainment such as zoos and museums

▪ Improve the water quality

▪ Urban development in the Turkey Creek neighborhood in Gulfport

▪ Gang intervention and drug treatment.

Reeves plans two more meetings. One is set for 11 a.m. Oct. 20 at Diamondhead City Hall, 5000 Diamondhead Circle, and one at 2 p.m. Nov. 30 at the Fine Arts Auditorium of Mississippi Gulf Coast Community College’s Gautier campus.

People can submit their ideas at BPSettlement@senate.ms.gov as well.

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