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Bryant wants $15 million in BP money to build new Keesler gate

JOHN FITZHUGH/SUN HERALD 
 The front gate at Keesler Air Force Base in Biloxi poses a security risk and Biloxi Mayor Andrew Gilich and Gov. Phil Bryant want the state Legislature to commit $15 million in BP funds to build a new main gate on Division Street.
JOHN FITZHUGH/SUN HERALD The front gate at Keesler Air Force Base in Biloxi poses a security risk and Biloxi Mayor Andrew Gilich and Gov. Phil Bryant want the state Legislature to commit $15 million in BP funds to build a new main gate on Division Street. SUN HERALD

BILOXI -- Mayor Andrew "FoFo" Gilich has made it a priority to push for a new main gate to Keesler Air Force Base and Gov. Phil Bryant agrees, asking the state Legislature to commit $15 million of the BP Economic Damages fund to the project.

Gilich met with Bryant last year, three days after being elected mayor, about building a main gate on Division Street to replace the White Avenue gate is now the base's main entrance. Train tracks are immediately south of the current gate and are a security risk in the event of an emergency.

"When I explained to (Bryant) why a new main gate at Division Street was crucial to ensuring Keesler's continuing mission, he immediately pledged to do whatever was necessary to assist us," Gilich said.

Gilich said the new gate is needed to ensure the base's main entryway meets the security standards of the Department of Defense and U.S. Air Force. It's also necessary to strengthen Keesler's position against the threat of future Base Realignment and Closure initiatives, he said.

He applauded Bryant for requesting the funding and asked the Coast delegation to push the request through the Legislature.

This request comes just two days after the mayor criticized the state House's proposal to funnel $50 million -- about one-third -- of the BP money into upgrading roads and bridges statewide, rather than being spent in South Mississippi, which was the area damaged by the Deepwater Horizon oil spill.

"This $50 million is a huge chunk of the first year's installment," Gilich said. "What we'd like to see now is a plan for the remainder."

The $15 million requested by the governor is part of that remaining funding.

In his letter Wednesday to Lt. Gov. Tate Reeves and Speaker of the House Phillip Gunn, Bryant cited concerns about a possible new BRAC round in 2019.

"Base commanders and local leadership have identified opening a new, secure gate complex on Division Street as a priority," Bryant said. "Base security must be taken seriously at all times, but particularly in the post-9/11 era, the real or perceived lack of secure access points could put our military bases at risk for closure."

A Division Street gate and access from Interstate 110 are expected to cost $37 million, with most of the expense coming outside the gate.

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