Harrison County

Biloxi councilman: Infrastructure project tearing community apart

BILOXI -- Councilman Felix Gines declared Tuesday he won't vote for any more payments on the $365 million infrastructure project until he gets some answers.

"It's tearing my community up. It's tearing my community apart," he said.

He voted against three change orders on Tuesday's agenda and said he would continue to do so until everyone comes to the table to discuss the project.

Mayor Andrew "FoFo" Gilich said he and his administration met with eight FEMA and MEMA representatives that morning and will continue to do so every week.

A workshop with the council and FEMA and MEMA representatives is scheduled for 4 p.m. next Tuesday.

The most pressing issue is that the money to pay the project manager runs out in February, while the project has at least another three to five years before all the Hurricane Katrina infrastructure work is complete.

If the emergency management agencies don't approve additional money for the project manager, it will cost Biloxi $2 million or more a year to hire people to oversee and inspect the work.

"We can't choke that down," Gilich said.

"The money for construction is there," said Marvin Dalla Rosa with HNTB Corp., which Biloxi hired as the project manager. "It's always been there," he said. "It's actually under budget."

Most of the bids came in under budget and Gilich suggested millions of dollars in savings could be adjusted to cover the cost of project management.

"It's a solution we've got to hammer out," he said.

Gines said he hears every day from residents complaining about health issues and vehicle chassis thrown out of alignment from roads that have been torn up for months, and contractors who haven't been paid for months.

David Nichols, director of administration, said Biloxi hasn't received any FEMA reimbursements since the end of August to pay contractors. The city was told Tuesday that $1.8 million is being processed, he said.

The other council members will bring their complaints to next week's workshop and Councilman George Lawrence said, "Come Tuesday, somebody better have some answers to everything."