Harrison County

‘What are we breathing?’ East Biloxi residents ask council

Gabryelle Eason holds a sign outside the Biloxi council meeting Tuesday asking for the city to do something about the roads in East Biloxi.
Gabryelle Eason holds a sign outside the Biloxi council meeting Tuesday asking for the city to do something about the roads in East Biloxi. meperez@sunherald.com

Adults and children from East Biloxi brought protest signs and complaints to Tuesday’s City Council meeting and said they’ve had enough of the health problems, the damaged vehicles and other issues they are facing because all the streets in their part of the city are torn up.

“Take responsibility,” and “What are we breathing?” read the signs, held where the mayor and council could see them throughout the meeting.

The residents’ ire was fueled by the heavy rains over the weekend that flooded the streets, most of which are dirt roads.

The city is in the middle of a $355 million project to replace or repair the infrastructure that went under water during Hurricane Katrina 11 years ago.

“We’ve been doing it 2 1/2 years,” Councilman Felix Gines said of the project north of the railroad tracks, “no progress.”

The work has been moving since Walt Rode took over as project manager, Gines said, also apologizing for the city hiring what he said is “a bad contractor.”

The North Contract has been a series of design problems and delays. In the meantime, residents say they can’t use their porches, the kids can’t ride bicycles and their cars and shoes are always dirty.

“It’s depressing,” said an Ocean Springs woman who cares for her critically ill sister in East Biloxi. “It’s embarrassing.” She’s started to use an inhaler recently, though at age 59, she said she’s never had asthma before.

Residents told the council they want the dust-control additives being spread on the roads tested.

“Does anyone know what’s in the dust?” said Elizabeth Englebretson, with the East Biloxi Community Collaborative.

The group did a survey and 96 percent of respondents said they had developed health issues since the project began. The survey also showed the condition of the road has cost some shops in the area half of their business.

Jennifer Crosslin, with the EBCC, said more streets need to be temporarily paved until the project gets to them.

“If they’re not working on it, it needs to be paved,” she said.

Councilman George Lawrence said the city needs to put more people on the job to get the contract done.

“Everybody’s been beat up enough and they’re looking for completion,” he said.

In other action Tuesday, the council voted 6-1 to adopt a waterfront plan that will provide a 25-foot setback for commercial development on the waterfront and encourage developers to build with the look of Old Biloxi.

All references that required property owners or the city to build anything were struck from the original proposal and were changed to “encourages,” attorney Gerald Blessey said.

Councilman Robert Deming III voted against the ordinance, saying he’s heard from numerous business owners, “and they’re concerned.”

Deming questioned whether the architectural guidelines will be more than just recommended and if the city shouldn’t be dictating how a business should look and he said Biloxi has more pressing issues.

Even with a waterfront plan, Lawrence said, “East Biloxi is not going to go anywhere until the streets are done.”