Hancock County

Renew Our Rivers tackles debris in Clermont Harbor

CLERMONT HARBOR -- A Hancock County community almost destroyed by Hurricane Katrina is now a little cleaner, thanks to an environmental-stewardship program.

About 30 volunteers assisted Mississippi Power's Renew Our Rivers personnel Wednesday during a day-long cleanup effort in Clermont Harbor.

Crews from Coast Electric also participated in the debris removal, the group's final cleanup of 2015.

"We were approached by several of our community partners about this area as being a part of Renew Our Rivers program," Renew Our Rivers' senior environmental specialist Courtney VanderSchaaf said. "The program is now in its 10th year. It's about 50-50 between Mississippi Power volunteers and Coast Electric volunteers helping us. Hancock County Solid Waste Management is also assisting us. We have collected over 300 tons of debris over the past 10 years. This was originally a functioning harbor. It does drain into the Gulf. These marshes play an important role in draining storm water."

Clermont Harbor is west of Bay St. Louis. It is about seven blocks wide and stretches five blocks inland. It was once home to historic Clermont Harbor Hotel, which was severely damaged by a fire in 1946.

Even though the debris removal comes more than a decade after the devastating storm, Hancock County solid waste enforcement officer Tommy Kidd said it was worth the wait.

"Believe it or not, this has come relatively fast," he said. "Even though there are people that live out here, a lot of people didn't know it existed. It was almost destroyed by Katrina. The nice thing about this service is that they bring in everything, even their own Dumpsters. It's such a service that you can't put a value on it."

Kidd said cleaning up Clermont Harbor has been a much-discussed issue.

"Unfortunately, Hancock County doesn't have the money to do a cleanup like this," he said. "FEMA said they were going to clean the marsh but it didn't happen. Well, that marsh used to be an actual harbor. They had boats in there and they even held harbor races there. That plot has a lot of history. Our long-term goal is to see it become a harbor again."

For area residents, the cleanup could not have come a day too soon.

"We can't believe this is happening," Clermont Harbor Civic Association President Craig Clement said. "We've been discussing having the harbor cleaned up for many, many years. The timing was almost perfect for this to begin. We're ecstatic. When Mississippi Power contacted me and told me they wanted to be a player in this, we were all open arms. It's exciting to finally see something positive for Clermont Harbor."

Crews worked throughout the day on land and in the water to remove the debris despite hazards such as mosquitoes, snakes and a possible stray alligator. VanderSchaaf said the group plans to return to Clermont Harbor in 2016.

"We hope to come back and do another cleanup in the spring and another in the fall," she said. "There's a lot of work to be done here. We would like to see the area restored to its former glory one day."

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