Military News

Coast military bases, communities aim to be better neighbors

Keesler Air Force Base has been a part of South Mississippi for 75 years. The Naval Construction Battalion Center has been on the Coast for almost as long. Military officials joined forces with civilian leaders Tuesday to work on a plan to continue to be good neighbors to the Coast and its residents.

The Gulf Regional Planning Commission hosted a joint press conference with representatives from Keesler and the Seabee Base to announce their intention to work more closely with civilian agencies and the public.

The Joint Land Use Study will monitor base growth and development and its effect on the community.

Kevin Gillam, NCBC's community planning liaison officer, said, "This is a communications study. We want to develop strategies between the city and counties to address any issues there might be between us, them and the public."

The study's focus will be on strengthening the relationship between Coast military installations and civilian agencies.

"Issues the public might have could be noise issues, traffic issues from the bases," Gulf Regional Planning Commission Executive Director Elaine Wilkinson said. "Then we want to address issues the bases might have, such as infrastructure issues or housing issues.

"This is the first stage, announcing the partnership, then collecting the data, then determining a solution."

Gulfport Mayor Billy Hewes said with the cooperation of the military agencies, Biloxi will have a better indication of how much growth it has seen and how it needs to deal with that growth.

"I can't tell you how many people who were stationed at Keesler now want to come back here to live.," Hewes said "Well, we need to provide the housing, those kinds of things, and work together."

Gillam said there will be many meetings with civilian agencies. He said the groups intend to meet at the end of June and a website devoted to the new partnership will launch about that time. The website also will offer details of study results.

The Department of Defense is funding 90 percent of the project and the Mississippi Development Authority the remaining 10 percent, Gillam said.

Keesler and the Seabee Base will each conduct Joint Land Use Studies. "In the short term, we'll look at infrastructure needs, traffic congestion and mobility needs," Wilkinson said. "In the long term, we're considering growth plans, future projects the bases are looking at. We'd like to meet them in the middle and to address any issues before they occur."

"I was here when (Hurricane) Katrina hit and I don't know how we could've managed without you," Harrison County Supervisor Beverly Martin said of the military bases' personnel. "I think it's important to have close communication."

Other installations such as Eglin Air Force Base in Florida have conducted similar studies.

"The Department of Defense asks us, 'What are you doing to manage development in you area?'" said Col. Michele Edmondson, commander of Keesler. "Then the next question is, 'Have you done a Joint Land Use study?' So far the answer, until now, has been no."

Study recommendations will be part of a final Joint Land Use Study report that will list necessary actions, costs and funding.