Seven years after Hurricane Katrina, Mississippi sat on more than $1 billion dollars in unspent federal disaster aid, half of which was slated for a massive project known as the “Port of the Future.” The State of Mississippi proposed to transform Gulfport, a niche banana port, into a super-sized facility to persuade jumbo Asian freighters to bypass west coast ports in favor of coastal Mississippi. Cargo headed to and from the port would travel on a beefed-up truck and rail corridor that would cut directly through and pollute local African American communities.
This project was misdirected from the beginning. In 2007, then-Governor Haley Barbour diverted $600 million in Hurricane Katrina housing assistance to expand the port. After the Center and the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law (LCCRUL) filed a lawsuit, Governor Barbour and the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) settled with the Center in 2010 for a $132 million housing program, but the port expansion issues on jobs and environmental justice were left unresolved.
Representing the Steps Coalition, the Center and LCCRUL pressed for accountability on jobs and environmental justice. Beginning in the summer of 2012, support for the Port of the Future began to unravel:
- The City of Gulfport voted to demand that the Port pay for an environmental justice air pollution study.
- The Port warned the public that mega-ships from the Panama Canal would not come to Gulfport.
- The Port admitted it had no current requests to deepen the ship channel to accommodate larger ships; in fact, the channel was silting in.
- The Port revised its permanent jobs target down from 5,400, as Barbour promised in 2011, to just 2,500.
- The Center wrote HUD to assert that the Port is not in compliance with low-income construction hiring requirements.
- A federal court invalidated the state department of transportation’s wetlands permit for the port connector road.
- The Center continues to collaborate with the community to push state officials to negotiate a community benefits agreement that adequately meets the public health, community well-being, and job training needs of local residents to better serve the people of Mississippi. At the same time, the Center and its litigation partners prepare the groundwork for any necessary legal challenges.
The Center continues to collaborate with the community to push state officials to negotiate a community benefits agreement that adequately meets the public health, community well-being, and job training needs of local residents to better serve the people of Mississippi. At the same time, the Center and its litigation partners prepare the groundwork for any necessary legal challenges.
For more information on the campaign, see the stories collected on the Steps Coalition port campaign website.
For more on these subjects read the following:
Reilly Morse, “Come On in This House: Advancing Social Equity in Post Katrina Mississippi,” Resilience and Opportunity: Lessons from the US Gulf Coast After Hurricanes Katrina and Rita, Brookings Press 2011.
Reilly Morse, “Environmental Justice Through the Eye of Hurricane Katrina,” Joint Center on Political and Economic Studies, 2008.