Port restoration an economic disappointment

Port Restoration an Economic Disappointment
and Likely Environmental Burden for Mississippi

Restoration Will Produce a Net Gain of Only 330 Direct Jobs over Pre-Storm Workforce and Have Significant Negative Environmental Impacts

At a community event held Friday, Dec. 9, the Steps Coalition and its partners in the recently formed Port Campaign Coalition demonstrated that the $480 million federally-funded restoration of the State Port will produce an approximate net increase of only 330 direct jobs to the Port’s pre-Katrina workforce.

Citing a recent HUD investigation, the Steps Coalition stressed that the Port cannot be trusted to meet its job creation promises without significant oversight and supervision. HUD found that the Port failed to put contracts and tracking mechanisms in place to meet the job creation goals required by federal law. When the nearly $500 million in public funds were diverted from Hurricane Katrina recovery efforts, the Barbour administration and the State Port promised that the expansion would create more than 3,300 jobs, primarily for low- and moderate-income residents. Six years after Katrina, these jobs can’t be found, and according to the Port, direct jobs won’t be available for another six years.

Furthermore, the Steps Coalition’s review of the Port’s data indicates that the Port’s figures are grossly inflated and that no permanent direct jobs have yet been created. At the event, the groups renewed their call on Governor Haley Barbour and Governor-elect Phil Bryant to develop a system to accurately track and improve the number of jobs created.

“Just check the math,” said Roberta Avila, executive director, Steps Coalition. “When you adjust the Port’s analysis to fit the real facts, the Port is expected to add 1,144 direct jobs to a current workforce of 1,286. This will take the port to 2,430 direct jobs when the port restoration is complete in 2016, which is only 330 more than we had on the day before Katrina struck. We deserve better jobs creation than that for half a billion dollars.”

The Port Campaign Coalition also called on the state to address the environmental impact of the port expansion. The port’s access roadway and railroad will bring thousands of additional trucks and rail cars in and out of Gulfport and will cut through heavily populated low-income and predominantly African-American communities. Diesel soot from this traffic is a major contributor to air pollution and can lead to serious health consequences such as asthma, cardiovascular and lung disease. The dramatic traffic and rail increase will also concentrate noise, public safety hazards and congestion problems into historically neglected neighborhoods.

“The port expansion in Mississippi cannot come at the expense of our most vulnerable populations,” said Reilly Morse, attorney for the Steps Coalition.
To advance the campaign for a community benefits agreement with the State Port, several organizations have officially formed the Port Campaign Coalition. Members include the Steps Coalition, North Gulfport Civic Club, North Gulfport Community Land Trust, Gulfport NAACP and Soria City Civic Organization.

The Steps Coalition is a nonprofit advocacy organization that organizes its work under five social justice pillars: economic and environmental justice, affordable housing, preservation of historic communities and human rights. The Steps Coalition started the Port Campaign Coalition to educate and advocate for sustainable job creation, environmental justice and positive outcomes in the communities affected by the port expansion. The Steps Coalition is represented by the Mississippi Center for Justice, Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law and Dewey & LeBoeuf. For more information, please go online to www.stepscoalition.org.

Mississippi Center for Justice is a nonprofit, public interest law firm committed to advancing racial and economic justice. Supported and staffed by attorneys, community leaders and volunteers, the Center develops and pursues strategies to combat discrimination and poverty statewide. More information about the Center’s campaigns to advance racial and economic justice is available online at www.mscenterforjustice.org.

The Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, a nonpartisan, nonprofit organization, was formed in 1963 at the request of John F. Kennedy to involve the private bar in providing legal services to address racial discrimination. The principal mission of the Lawyers’ Committee is to secure, through the rule of law, equal justice under law. For more information, visit www.lawyerscommittee.org.