Community to Corps: Give us more facts about proposed expansion

December 8, 2015
Sun Herald

GULFPORT -- The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers needs to finish its homework before ending the public's chance to comment on a study that assesses the environmental impact of another proposed port expansion, community advocates said at a hearing Tuesday night.

The corps held the hearing as part of its public-comment period, which runs through Monday, on the port's plans to fill 282 acres of water bottoms to expand the east and west piers and north harbor. The proposal includes dredging for a turning basin and adding a breakwater, both off the East Pier.

Community groups fear additional truck and rail traffic would create unacceptable levels of air pollution in minority neighborhoods, including the 28th Street Elementary School. They also question port plans to elevate the expanded pier areas, which would extend south into the Mississippi Sound off the existing piers, to 25 feet above sea level.

 

The port scrapped plans for a 25-foot elevation of the current West Pier because of the time and expense involved.

Several speakers, including Reilly Morse of the Mississippi Center for Justice and Roberta Avila and Howard Page of the Steps Coalition, said the corps needs to complete a roadside study of traffic emissions and include it in a draft study open for public comment. They said it is unfair of the corps to end comments on the draft study, then issue a final study, without air-emissions study results.

Glen Cobb of the Port Campaign Coalition said minority residents would be asked to suffer the brunt of increased pollution from another port expansion because the traffic would run through their neighborhoods.

A regional pollution analysis in the study, he said, does not address the impact on neighborhoods nearest the port's transportation corridor. The study will not comply with regulations meant to provide environmental justice without such an analysis, he said.

Others wonder if the proposed expansion, along with the West Pier restoration and expansion project in progress, will create promised jobs. The port is spending $570 million in federal post-Katrina money on the West Pier expansion set to be finished in 2017, but the project started in 2008 has so far added only 98 full-time jobs. Meanwhile, the International Longshoremen's Association Local #1303 has less work now than it had before the storm.

"I'm here for the little man," said Anthony Capsel, who has worked at ports all over Louisiana, but has been unable to get a job at the state port in Gulfport, his hometown.

Insurance agent Shorty Sneed told corps representatives deepening waters around the port would reduce wave action from hurricanes, and adding land with a 25-foot elevation also would buffer neighboring properties from hurricane damage.