Hurricane Katrina Forest Recovery

As we work together to tackle the historic challenge that Hurricane Katrina has presented to the forestry communities of Mississippi, Louisiana, and Alabama, we hope that this blog will be a valuable resource and tool.

Thursday, September 28

Debris to be Transformed into Reef

The Mississippi Department of Transportation (MDOT) has awarded a contract that calls for the removal of concrete debris from damaged portions of the Pascagoula River Bridge at Interstate 10, following Hurricane Katrina in 2005.

L & A Contracting Company of Hattiesburg bid $250,000 for the debris removal contract, which also calls for the creation of a protective jetty reef at a designated site south of Deer Island. The debris had been placed along U.S. 90 at the Singing River Bridge of West Pascagoula River following the hurricane.

"This beneficial debris removal project will result in the creation of a protective barrier for Deer Island in the event of future storms," said District Six engineer Ricky Lee. He said the project should take approximately a month to complete.

All concrete remnants of the repairs of the eastbound lanes of the I-10 Bridge over the Pascagoula River will be placed on barges and shipped to the designated reef area for placement. The result will be an aesthetically pleasing reef, visible to marine vessels approximately two to five feet above the water.

"Finding a beneficial use of this storm damaged bridge is just another way MDOT is committed to the environmental habitat, protection of our coastline and the sportsmen of our state," said Ocean Springs project engineer Kelly Castleberry.


Tuesday, September 26

$18 Million in Hurricane Recovery Grants Committed

The Board of Directors of the Mississippi Hurricane Recovery Fund has approved $18 million in grant commitments to aid in the recovery process from the worst natural disaster in American history. Under decisions made on September 22, 2006, Long Term Recovery Committees in George, Hancock, Harrison, Jackson, Pearl River, and Stone Counties are targeted to receive grants to help bridge gaps in un-funded needs of residents.

Governor Haley Barbour, who created the Mississippi Hurricane Recovery Fund within a few days after Hurricane Katrina struck the state on August 29, 2005, said, "My intention in creating this special fund was to attract private monies to help victims of the hurricane with recovery costs that exceeded coverage from other sources, such as insurance, government grants, and immediate relief programs. Due to the generosity of people and companies from all around the world, the Fund’s outstanding Board of Directors has allocated this $18 million to help individuals with needs un-met by Federal funds."

Projects approved to receive grant commitments are:
Disaster Recovery Services of George County, MS, will receive $1.2 million for a Regional Resource Center to be located in Lucedale;

Hancock County Long Term Recovery Committee, Harrison County Long Term Recovery Coalition, and Rebuild Jackson County will share in a $15 million allotment to be used for individual housing assistance;

Pearl River County Hope Committee will receive $650,000 for a Regional Resource and Senior Center in Picayune;

Stone County Long Term Recovery Committee will receive $200, 000 to fund housing repair projects.

Additionally, non-profit organizations in Harrison County and Hancock County will receive $400,000 and $600,000, respectively, through each county’s Long Term Recovery Committee to supplement other non-profit monies to build Community Resource Centers in the communities of DeLisle and Pearlington.

Board Chairman Richard Hickson said, "As soon as these committees finalize the details of their requested projects, the Fund will begin meeting its commitments. The Board will monitor the spending of these funds to ensure accountability and that project dollars are used to close the gap in un-met needs. The Board is ever mindful that we are the trustees of our contributors, a responsibility that we do not take lightly. "

These six Long Term Recovery Committees each represent a consortium of non-profits and faith-based organizations located within their counties. Identifying the funding gaps un-met by Federal or State recovery programs began on March 9 with the Governor’s Forum on Long Term Recovery hosted by the Mississippi Hurricane Recovery Fund. More than 250 organizations from the lower six counties were invited to discuss how to identify and fund the un-met needs in their local communities.

Following the forum, county committees came to together to communicate and coordinate ways to maximize the limited recovery resources available. Through this process these committees identified and prioritized the un-funded needs of their neighbors. The committees presented their requests to the Board in June.

The Board asked Governor Barbour to have all departments within State government review the committees’ needs requests to ensure none of the requests could qualify for Federal or State assistance. Following the State’s revi ew, in early September, the Board met with each committee to gain additional understanding of each request. Following a two-week period of review, the Board made grant commitments in its September 22 meeting.

Governor Barbour expressed his gratitude to the Fund’s Board members and Officers, saying, "Each of you has given freely of your time and energy to create a transparent process that ensures proper management and accountability of this most important recovery task. I genuinely appreciate the outstanding work of Board Chairman Richard Hickson of Jackson; Board Members Royce Cumbest of Pascagoula, Peyton Self of Marks, Chevis Swetman of Biloxi, and Ray Wesson of Gulfport; and officers William T. Richardson, Jr., President and Chief Executive Officer; J. Paul Varner, Secretary; and Mike Summerford, Treasurer. I also want the public to know that all of you served as volunteers in this important effort."

The Mississippi Hurricane Recovery Fund has received more than $18 million through the worldwide support of over 8,500 contributors. The Fund has benefited from three fund-raising events: The Mississippi Rising Concert in Oxford, a Culinary Reception in Jackson, and the Governor’s Cup Golf Tournament at Old Waverly Golf Club, West Point. In addition, the Bush Clinton Katrina Fund has pledged and is in the final process of releasing $12.4 million to the Fund.

Monday, September 25

Loblolly, Linbrook Awarded Grants

According to U.S. Rep. Chip Pickering (R-Miss), Loblolly, a wood processing plant in Lauderdale County, and the Linbrook Business Park in Lincoln County will receive federal funds.

Loblolly will receive $650,000. The investment expects to create 34 new jobs and $32.4 million in private investment.

Linbrook Business Park will receive approximately $1.1 million. The business park expects to recruit business and industry to the area and create 119 jobs and $117 million in private investment.

The grants come from an Economic Adjustment Program grant of the U.S. Department of Commerce's Economic Development Administration. This program seeks to help improve economic development in areas damaged or affected by Hurricane Katrina.


Thursday, September 21

Gov. Barbour Announces New Phases of Housing Assistance Plan

Two new phases of a comprehensive approach to meet critical housing needs for victims of Hurricane Katrina on the Mississippi Coast were announced today by Governor Haley Barbour.
"Housing is the most critical component of our recovery from Hurricane Katrina and these two new initiatives will help thousands more displaced Coast families take another step toward restoring normalcy in their daily lives," Governor Barbour said. "I have submitted these plans to the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development and hope federal officials will act quickly to approve them."

The new initiatives, which build on a homeowner assistance grant program that is currently under way, contain a number of elements as outlined below (for a complete description of these initiatives and other details, go to

Phase II of the Homeowners Assistance Grant Program
Phase II is designed to help 7,000-10,000 low to moderate income homeowners whose homes were damaged by the storm surge but were not eligible for Phase I of the homeowner grant program, Governor Barbour said. Such homeowners can qualify regardless of whether they were uninsured or under-insured and regardless of whether their homes were inside or outside the flood plain. Some 13,000 to 15,000 homeowners qualified for Phase I of the program and are in the process of receiving their grants.

Under the new program, homeowners would receive a subsidy of up to $50,000 to fill the gap between the cost to rebuild/repair and the homeowner's ability to pay. This subsidy also would be available to homeowners who choose to sell the damaged property and relocate somewhere else within the lower six counties in Mississippi. To be eligible for the subsidy, the homeowner must agree to stay in the home for at least five years, either on the pre-Katrina site or in the relocated home.

An additional subsidy of up to $25,000 would be available to homeowners with disabilities or special needs. A significant component of this program would be financial counseling for the homeowners.

Increasing the supply of rental housing
Hurricane Katrina destroyed a significant portion of the rental properties on the Gulf Coast. Many of these were single family units, duplexes, or other small rental properties. By offering $25,000 per unit in two annual installments to owners of 10 units or less in exchange for certain conditions on affordability, more than 5,000 rental units will become available to lower and workforce income families.

In addition, the Gulf Opportunity Zone Act authorizes the Mississippi Home Corporation to allocate approximately $35 million in annually in Low Income Housing Tax Credits in 2006, 2007, 2008. The Mississippi Home Corporation awards these federal tax credits based on a competitive scoring process conducted according to the "Qualified Allocation Plan" approved by the Governor.

In August 2006, Mississippi Home Corporation awarded more than $10 million of housing tax credits which will facilitate the construction of 1,006 housing units in Hancock, Harrison, Jackson and Stone counties. These units are available only to families with incomes of less than 60% of the Area Median Income.

To ensure that more of the tax credits are directed to the areas that need them the most, the Mississippi Home Corporation is restructuring the Qualified Allocation Plan at Governor Barbour's urging. Not only will the new plan ensure that more credits are used in the lower six counties, the revised plan encourages innovative mixed income developments that will provide new rental housing for families between 60% and 80% of the Area Median Income and new market rate rental units.

It is estimated these federal tax credits will spur the construction of more than 5,000 rental units in the lower six counties. In addition, previously-announced plans will provide 2,500 units of public housing. Collectively, these three programs will enable construction of more than 12,500 units.

Also, to assist former renters' transition to homeownership, the Governor's office is working with non-profit groups, the Mississippi Development Authority, and others to develop a financial assistance plan similar to the one designed for the Phase II applicants.

Governor Barbour said the newest initiatives are part of his comprehensive approach to addressing the critical housing needs of people on the Mississippi Gulf Coast after Hurricane Katrina. So far, his comprehensive plan includes initiatives that:

-Compensate homeowners who relied to their detriment on those who said they did not need flood insurance;
-Assist uninsured and underinsured lower income homeowners affected by the storm surge;
-Lower borrowing costs to encourage new homeownership;
-Restore lost public rental housing; rebuild and construct affordable rental units for lower income families;
-Mitigate the increasing cost of insurance for homeowners;
-Pursue innovative housing solutions such as modular housing;
-Help local governments with the burden of inspecting and permitting housing construction; and -Construct new public water and sewer infrastructure to facilitate new housing developments.

With the programs outlined in the Governor's plan, more than 35,000 households of both homeowners and renters will receive assistance.

For more details on the Governor's comprehensive housing plan, go to

Wednesday, September 20

HOUSING HANG-UPS: Banker Calls Modular Housing Key to Recovery


Bill Bynum is on a mission to put an end to the bureaucratic hang-ups keeping affordable housing from the people who need it most, and to help low- and moderate-income people in South Mississippi recover from Hurricane Katrina. He described his work as CEO of the nonprofit Enterprise Corporation of the Delta and Hope Community Credit Union as "banking on the edges."

ECD/Hope, a major community-development corporation, provides personal lending, financial counseling and business-planning assistance. It is based in Jackson and has an office in Biloxi.

"If you can put assets in people's pockets, then they can have more control over their well-being," said Bynum. "They can finance and use the assets in their home to send their kids to school or use as a safety net when a strong wind blows, like we have seen here."

ECD/Hope is coordinating the Home Again program in Pass Christian, which is providing 34 modular homes and one traditionally constructed home for owners who could not otherwise afford to rebuild. The program provides "gap loans" that are forgiven at the rate of 10 percent per year to cover rebuilding costs not covered by the government or insurance.

Bynum said Home Again is a pilot project that demonstrates what can be done. He believes modular housing is a key part of South Mississippi's recovery that needs to be addressed.

ECD/Hope vice president Phil Eide said one problem is the confusion over the distinction between modular and manufactured houses. Eide said around 70 modular homes were sold in Mississippi in 2005, compared to 30,000 manufactured homes.

"Manufactured has been a huge industry in the state for decades. Modular is a brand-new concept," said Eide. "Even this year there has been only 150 modular homes delivered into the state in the first six months."

Eide said there has been an intentional blurring of the issue by the manufactured-home industry, and in some cases homebuilders, because they see modular housing as competition.

Eide said manufactured housing is always built on a metal frame. Some modular houses are also built on a frame.

"The kind of modular we are looking for - permanent housing that is going to last and appreciate, rather than depreciate - is off-frame," said Eide. "That is much more like a stick-built house than it is a trailer."

Eide said quality modular homes are brought to a site, lifted onto a permanent foundation and attached to that foundation like a traditional home.

Eide said another problem that needs to be addressed is fire-marshal regulations that require all manufactured and modular homes to have a HUD sticker, like a VIN number in an automobile. Modular homes are not issued HUD numbers and therefore may not pass inspection under the letter of the law.

Eide said state law also requires modular homes be sold through a retailer, like those used for manufactured homes. He believes his organization should be able to order homes directly from the factory.

Bynum said there has been a lack of expertise in the area of affordable housing around the decision-making table.

"Traditional banks and large corporations have not historically been very effective at addressing the needs of the low-income population," he said. "They may be well-meaning, but they don't have that skill set."

Bynum said the state and banks also haven't had a lot of experience with nonprofit partners to assist low- and moderate-income households.

"We have had to hand-hold many of the banks that originated our mortgages. We had to make it very easy for them to make investments in poor communities," Bynum said. "Otherwise they gravitate toward the formulaic strategies they typically use that have been very profitable for them."

Eide listed five programs that are needed to address the housing crisis. He said the state has $3.5 million that could be used to help implement the following:

• Subsidies to help homeowners rebuild.

• Incentives for developers to build more homes for low- and moderate-income buyers.

• Down-payment assistance to help renters become homeowners.

• Improvements in organization and administration of public housing authorities.

• Help for the individual landlord with a small number of properties.

Friday, September 15

MDOT Gets Ferry Project Underway

The Mississippi Department of Transportation (MDOT) has begun preparations for vehicular ferry service between Henderson Point in Harrison County and Bay St. Louis.

MDOT has agreed to contract with a ferry service provider to operate the ferry. Funding for the ferry service as well as the preparatory work for the access and landing sites come from Emergency Relief (ER) funds provided by the Federal Highway Administration.
In addition, on the Henderson Point side, MDOT has assembled crews to repair a half-mile stretch of Old Highway 90 and clear nearly a mile of county roads in the landing vicinity. Also, sections of the 3rd Avenue roadbed, which were destroyed by Hurricane Katrina, will be repaired.

In a recent development, the Seabees will no longer be able to construct the ferry landing, therefore MDOT maintenance crews will now accomplish all phases of ferry landing construction, except pile driving and material supply. Hattiesburg-based Warren Paving Inc. was awarded two separate contracts related to the ferry operation. Warren Paving bid $987,000 for dredging and $1.37 million to cover material and pile driving costs. The Harrison County Sand Beach Authority is contributing to current repair work along Old Highway 90 by offering equipment, operators and the use of sand.

"MDOT has benefited greatly from the way Harrison County has pitched in to assist in the road repairs leading to the landing," said District Six engineer Ricky Lee. "It is because of the cooperation of all levels of government that the ferry operation is becoming a reality."


MDA Reopens Service Centers

The Mississippi Development Authority (MDA) is making a number of changes in its Katrina Homeowner Grant program designed to provide applicants with more information about their grant status and facilitate their grant closing, including reopening the service centers.

"We are reopening the service centers to allow applicants to come in and get copies of their damage assessments," said Scott Hamilton, MDA director of communications. "We will also have representatives on hand to review the assessments with applicants and additional representatives available to assist with initiating the appeal process if applicants feel their assessment is flawed."

The deadline to make appeals has been extended from 30 to 60 days after receiving a grant notification package. In addition, the minimum appeal has been reduced from $10,000 to $500 to provide applicants the ability to bring more modest discrepancies to MDA's attention. As before, applicants may go through the closing process, receive the initial grant and make an appeal if they choose.

On September 13, MDA's centers at the Prime Outlet Mall in Gulfport and Singing River Mall in Gautier begin providing walk-in assistance to grant applicants. The center's hours are 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Monday through Friday. Services include: filing appeals and explaining appeal rights; assistance related to damage assessments (staffed by MDA's damage assessment contractor); assistance for those that are denied a grant; assistance and questions on the closing process; assistance and questions on subordinations; assistance and questions dealing with mortgage companies; and, assistance and questions concerning the grant covenants and title issues0

For applicants that would rather get assistance by phone, calls should be directed to the MDA Call Center toll-free at 1-866-369-6302 rather than the Helpdesk line. The call center personnel are being trained for these questions with technical backup being provided by the agency's program contractor.

Information is also available online at, or


Thursday, September 14

Governor's Office of Recovery and Renewal eNewsletter

Governor Haley Barbour today announced the allocation of more than $17.8 million in social services block grant (SSBG) funds to be used to restore services to hospitals and other social services entities affected by Hurricane Katrina. These funds come as part of the more than $128 million Mississippi received through a Supplemental Appropriations bill passed by Congress.

In order to receive these funds, facilities were required to submit a proposal to the Mississippi Department of Human Services, which was designated by Governor Barbour as the state agency responsible to distribute and receive such hurricane monies. After applications were processed, the following facilities received SSBG funding:

• Outreach Health Services, Shubuta - $16,039
• Jefferson Comprehensive Health Center, Fayette - $88,400
• Hardy Wilson Memorial Hospital, Hazelhurst - $113,600
• Dr. Arenia C. Mallory Community Health Center, Lexington/Yazoo City- $268,469
• Forrest General Hospital, Hattiesburg - $1,633,053
• Claiborne County Family Health Center, Port Gibson - $34,374
• Southwest Mississippi Regional Medical Center, McComb - $5,000,000
• Riley Hospital, Meridian - $130,267
• Wayne County General Hospital, Waynesboro - $87,329
• Gulfport Memorial Hospital, Gulfport - $1,364,352
• Hancock Medical Center, Bay St. Louis - $1,090,434
• Mississippi Department of Human Services, Division of Community Services - $8,000,000

Self sufficiency, protection, maintenance and miscellaneous needs are the four broad categories that govern all service activities supported by SSBG funds. Only services existing prior to August 29, 2005 are eligible for restoration, and proposals will only be accepted to restore services or activities to pre-Katrina condition. Funds must be expended by August 31, 2007 and liquidated by September 30, 2007. For more information, please call 601-359-4778 or go to for an application.

MDA Releases Katrina Action Plan

The Mississippi Development Authority (MDA) has published the Katrina Supplemental CDBG Funds for Economic Development Program Action Plan. The plan is currently posted on the agency's Web site at for public review and comment.
This program is designed to assist local governments affected by Hurricane Katrina to provide infrastructure to support economic development. The funds will be awarded in the form of grants and loans that will be used for economic development purposes and projects will be considered on a case-by-case basis. All local governments in the presidential declared disaster area are eligible. Proposals will be accepted until funds are depleted.

A total of $300 million has been set aside by the State of Mississippi to provide funding in three program categories: $250 million for Community Development Block Grant (CDBG) economic development grants and loans; $45 million for community revitalization; and, $5 million for planning.

The public is invited to make comments about the action plan before submission of the final version to the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development. Comments can be faxed to (601) 359-9280 or e-mailed to Comments must be received by September 22, 2006.

Monday, September 11

MSU Department of Forestry Stakeholder Meetings

MFA initiated a specialty Mississippi license plate that says First in Forestry. At the Mississippi State University Department of Forestry, we want to do our part to continue this tradition of excellence. We support the state’s forestry community by educating students to become natural resource professionals, by providing educational programs to landowners, foresters, and loggers, and by conducting research to advance forest science.

Help us better serve you by joining us at one of the upcoming meetings. Forestry is currently undergoing profound changes at a rapid pace. We are hosting a series of three meetings to solicit ideas from you to help us position our department for the future and to help us prepare our students for this changing forestry world. We would like to hear from a broad spectrum of Mississippi’s forestry community: landowners, foresters, loggers, natural resources professionals, public agencies, and nongovernmental organizations. We want to know which of our activities you find most valuable and to get your ideas on how we can improve and create new activities to help Mississippi forestry.

The meetings will be held from 10:00 AM until 3:00 PM with lunch provided. They will be held at the following locations:

MSU Central Research and Extension Center1 Raymond Thursday, Oct. 5

Forrest County Extension Office2 Hattiesburg Wednesday, Oct. 18

Bost Extension Center3 Starkville Thursday, Oct. 19

If you have questions about the individual meetings or need directions, please call the numbers below. If you plan to come help us, please call Brenda Grebner at (662) 325-2949 or e-mail by Oct. 2nd and let us know which meeting you will attend. We need a head count for lunches.

If you have questions about the meeting content, please call Jim Shepard at (662) 325-2781 or e-mail

1) 1320 Seven Springs Road. For directions, call (601) 857-2284.
2) 952 Sullivan Drive, Hattiesburg, MS. For directions, call (601) 545-6083.
3) Extension Drive, MSU campus. For directions, call (662) 325-3150.

Stennis Space Center to Develop Early Warning System for Forest Health Issues

An agreement has been reached between the USDA Forest Service and NASA's John C. Stennis Space Center for a $1-million project that will provide remote sensing technology for a national early warning system (EWS) for forest health issues. Development of the EWS will take place at Stennis.

"Across this nation, many of our forests are facing serious threats from invasive species, insects, disease and severe weather," said Sen. Thad Cochran (R-Miss.). "The development of this early warning system will help to detect, predict and rapidly respond to environmental threats on both public and private forests."

The EWS is envisioned to be a multi-source, multi-scale tool that will provide high-frequency reconnaissance and detailed location specific analysis of potential and emerging forest threats. The remote sensing project is the first of its kind solely devoted to the assessment of environmental forest threats.

The Stennis team will work collaboratively with the USDA Forest Service Eastern Forest Environmental Threat Assessment Center in Asheville, N.C., as well as the Western Wildland Threat Assessment Center in Prineville, Ore.

Full Article Here

Friday, September 1

New Parks Uplift Community

Rebuilding community gathering places destroyed one year ago is the goal of several organizations in South Mississippi. Ten park-dedication ceremonies will be held this week as part of that process.

Tuesday's events included a groundbreaking for Fort Maurepas Park in Ocean Springs and the dedication of Seventh Street Park in Bay St. Louis. But the biggest bang is being made by KaBOOM! with eight parks being built in four days.

KaBOOM! parks were built on Monday at Second Street Elementary in Bay St. Louis and on Tuesday at John Henry Beck Park in Biloxi, Pass Christian High School's football field and Owen T. Palmer Park in Gulfport.

Parks will be built today at Central Elementary in Pascagoula and Carol Vegas in Bay St. Louis and on Thursday at Miramar Park in Biloxi and Hancock Medical Center in Bay St. Louis.
Hundreds of volunteers are expected to participate in each build, with up to 500 signed up for the two biggest projects at John Henry Beck and Miramar parks.

The projects are part of Operation Playground, KaBOOM!'s two-year initiative to build 100 playgrounds in areas affected by Katrina and Rita. To commemorate the anniversary of Hurricane Katrina, this week 10 parks are being built, eight in Mississippi, with the assistance of Home Depot, Playworld Systems and Hands On.

Operation Playground director Sara Rose Pinsky said the parks are important to give children a safe place to run and jump, express their emotions and just have fun. But Pinsky said adults need parks as well, to serve as community gathering places.

"We are not just building places to play, we are helping rebuild a sense of community," said Pinsky.

KaBOOM! plans to build an additional 10 parks by the end of the year.

AmeriCorps NCCC volunteers Steven Humphreys of Oakland, N.J., left, and Emily Margaret Uhar of Washington, D.C., and Hands On volunteer Mark Maund of Tempe, Ariz., center, work Tuesday on the KaBOOM! playground at John Henry Beck Park in Biloxi. Volunteers Melissa Norel, left, Pfc. Gregory Brown, Verdell Hawkins and Joi Olive help paint a bench Tuesday at Owen T. Palmer Park on Second Street in Gulfport.