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.

Wednesday, December 20

Biloxi Council Cuts Red Tape For Residents Rebuilding

It's been 15 months since Katrina hit, and still, this Christmas some residents are not back in their homes.

"At this point in time, when you've had over 3,000 structures destroyed in East Biloxi alone, you don't need a lot of red tape to get people back into their homes. It's been 15 months. People need to get back in their home," said Ward 2 Councilman Bill Stallworth.

This is why East Biloxi councilmen Bill Stallworth and George Lawrence have pushed for an ordinance that will cut out a lot of the red tape for residents trying to build back. The Council voted unanimously in favor of that ordinance, effective immediately.

"Residents that lost their homes in Katrina will have the ability to come back in and, if they have a small lot, they can't quite get the house on it, they can come to the building department, meet with the planning people, get a recommendation from them, bring it to the city council. The city can approve that and basically cut the time by 90 percent," Councilman Stallworth said.

"Otherwise, you would have had to go through the planning commission. This way here you can go directly to Biloxi Community Development Center, sit down with them, adjust your house to the piece of property that you own now," Councilman Lawrence said.
But the ordinance will remain in effect only for a limited time.

"This particular ordinance will expire September 1, 2007," said Councilman Stallworth. "It's extremely important that people get their building permits and get under construction so that they can move back into their homes as quickly as possible."
Toni Miles

Katrina Quilt Raises $2000


Recovered fabric rescued from the wet Katrina sand and quilting supplies donated from around the country were pieced and sewn together to raise $2,000 for the Hancock County Library Foundation.

Members of the Bay Oaks Quilt Guild in Diamondhead came together with fabric and supplies from unexpected places and created a Katrina Quilt to raise money for the restoration of the county's damaged libraries.

Each block of the Katrina Quilt was pieced and quilted by the members of the quilting guild and represent the help the storm brought to South Mississippi. When the quilt was completed, it was quickly auctioned at a gala fundraiser held by the Dream One World organization in Santa Rosa, Calif.

After losing their meeting locations in Bay St. Louis to Katrina, the 30 members of the Bay Oaks Quilt Guild relocated to Diamondhead. During the storm, members lost their quilts, supplies and homes but those obstacles did not stop the determined women to pull together their resources and sew a unique creation to help the library system recover.

"We were able to get back to quilting because of the generosity of quilters from all over the country. We were sent fabric and supplies and we also used the recovered fabric that was rescued from the sand on the beach," said Gloria Burlette, a member of the Bay Oaks Quilt Guild.

To support the Hancock County Library System visit or call 467-5282.

Long Beach Clarifies Debris Removal Information

There was some confusion in the city of Long Beach Tuesday after a new debris deadline hit the news.

A debris contractor sent a news release to local media encouraging Long Beach residents to move debris to their curbs. But not everyone is eligible. Now city leaders want it straightened out.

When Long Beach city clerk Rebecca Schruff got to work Tuesday morning she was surprised by some of the phone calls she received.

"Some of the calls I have gotten today have been from people north of the track wanting to know about debris removal, and this is not going to cover that area at all," says Schruff.
The calls followed stories by WLOX and The Sun Herald newspaper telling everyone in Long Beach when and where to dump their storm debris for pick-up. Long Beach Mayor Billy Skellie says the contractor didn't have the information quite right.

"I think the contractor made it seem like it was everywhere, and it's not everywhere. It's those designated areas that were affected by storm surge and only those areas," says Mayor Skellie.
The mayor wants to clear up the confusion because he doesn't want trash scattered along the streets of Long Beach.

"The pickup area will be included in the area that saw the surge north of the tracks and near the canals. Canal 2, 3 and Canal 1, if it was affected by the storm surge. I think people will know exactly where that is," says Skellie.

Since there are different contractors for each job, city leaders in Long Beach want people to separate debris into three piles: One for concrete blocks, another for trees and a third pile for all other debris.

"It will be nowhere near the job it was before. It won't be as much, but this is the kind of thing where we do another little fine tune-up to try and cleanup," says Skellie.
Mayor Skellie says the deadline for people to get their trash to the curb is January 15. That will give contractors enough time to get everything picked up by their deadline of February 28, 2007.

Residents who still have questions about the debris pickup may call the Long Beach City Hall at (228) 863-1556.

by Elise Roberts

Tuesday, December 19

Eyesore Properties Remain Untouched Since Storm

"Raquet Club Apartments" sounds like a somewhat prestigious address. These days, it's anything but. Ugly scars from the storm permeate the Courthouse Road property. But an out-of-state developer is interested in reviving the site, and will decide by February first.
"Simultaneously, we're working to condemn the property. So, if this develpment group from Atlanta does not do something with the property, then it will fall back on the owner, who lives in Tuscaloosa. And then we'll ask him to tear it down, or the city will do it," said Gulfport's urban development director, Larry Jones.

The future of another eyesore in Gulfport is less certain. What's left of Chateau De Le Mer still sits on property at Highway 90 and Cowan Road. The property manager never returned a call, and for now at least, the city is satisfied because the site is secured by a fence.

"If the property is secured, sometimes that's boarding it up or it might be putting a chain link fence around it, that's the most important thing right now," Jones explained.

A chain link fence surrounds the old Comfort Inn property on Highway 90 just east of Rodenberg in Biloxi. Realtor Bob Usey says something positive should happen soon. Several developers are eyeing the site for condominiums.

Just down the road, another hotel property remains in ruins, but it lacks the security of a chain link fence.

Along with the unsightliness of the Gulf Beach Resort property, there appears to be a safety concern there as well. Although several warning and no trespassing signs are posted on the property, the only barrier is an orange, plastic fence; certainly not enough to keep out visitors or vagrants.

The City of Biloxi's community development director promises to investigate the lack of a secure barrier at the Gulf Beach site.

"We'll do an investigation and check to see if it is open and unsecured. If it is, we'll take that up with the property owner and have him put in some level of security," said Jerry Creel, who directs the city department which includes code enforcement.

Creel says the resolution of code enforcement issues can often be a lengthy process. The City of Biloxi handles such cases in its community court. There's currently a three month back log of cases in that court.

By Steve Phillips

Gulfport Begins Beautification Campaign

The mayor of Gulfport says making small details a big priority is good for economic development in his city and the coast. Mayor Warr says the city is in the beginning stages of a beautification campaign.

Recently, Gulfport increased the number of work crews from three to seven. That's one per ward. The city will use grant money to build its first municipal greenhouse.

The mayor says aesthetics influence job recruitment, because most people won't want to move to a city if it's not an attractive place to live.

"What we're trying to create is a place where people want to live, that's beautiful. And when they come through here, whether they know they're coming to Gulfport or not, they may be down here for a convention, they might just be driving through looking for a hot meal, but when they pull in, we want them to say, 'Wow.'" Mayor Warr said.

The mayor also spoke Tuesday about Mississippi's decline in manufacturing jobs because of NAFTA and globalization. He said the coast's economic future lies in expanding the service industry, which includes health care and hospitality.


Monday, December 18

Biloxi Bay Bridge Beams Going Up

According to the Mississippi Department of Transportation (MDOT), there has been significant development in the construction of the bridge replacement project of the U.S. 90 Biloxi Bay Bridge in Harrison and Jackson counties that was destroyed by Hurricane Katrina.

While substructure work has been underway for several months, crews plan to set the first series of beams on the bridge December 18, weather permitting.

"While foundation work on the bridge has been proceeding nicely, the public has little opportunity to view that phase of construction. Setting the first series of beams signifies the beginning of construction more visible to members of the community," said Ocean Springs project engineer Kelly Castleberry.

MDOT awarded the project to GC Constructors, a joint venture composed of the firms Massman Construction Company of Kansas City, Kiewit Southern Company of Peachtree City, Ga., and Traylor Brothers Inc. of Evansville, Ind. The $338.6-million project will be constructed as a high-rise structure with 95 feet of vertical clearance and will include six traffic lanes and a shared-use path of biking and pedestrian. The bridge is scheduled to open two lanes of traffic by the end of 2007.

Thursday, December 14

USM Returning Some Classes to Gulf Park

The University of Southern Mississippi (USM) will offer a limited number of classes this spring on its Gulf Park campus on the Mississippi Gulf Coast, which was heavily impacted by Hurricane Katrina.

Dr. Pat Joachim, associate provost on the Gulf Coast, said staff members have been working diligently to open more classroom space and remove debris from the damaged buildings.

Though the university is only moving a few classes back to Gulf Park, USM representatives see this as a milestone in recovery. Southern Miss has been working to expand classroom space since it opened in its temporary location last fall. This coming spring, the university will open three additional buildings and two new quad units in its Student Service Center in Gulfport, making available much needed office and classroom space. In fall 2007, Southern Miss plans to reopen the Gulf Park Library and Advanced Education Center in Long Beach.

Balancing the need to preserve the campus while maintaining an affordable presence on the Coast has been a persistent challenge. The state has declared some of Gulf Park's buildings to be of historical significance, but the costs of operation, insurance and construction have risen dramatically since the storm.

Robert Bass, the Mississippi Board of Trustees of State Institutions of Higher Learning's appointee to oversee restoration efforts, said insurance costs have risen four to five times what they were before last August, but he remains optimistic that the university will find a solution. Bass added that the university can expect an approximately five-year window of recovery, but within those five years there will be many milestones of progress.

"This is an extremely exciting time for Southern Miss and higher education along the Gulf Coast," Bass said. "We were hit extremely hard by Katrina, but it has given us the opportunity to start fresh and really be a catalyst to improve the overall quality of life on the Coast and provide some significant contributions to the state, as well."

Governor Barbour Names Womack to Head MEMA

Governor Haley Barbour today named Mike Womack of Jackson as Executive Director of the Mississippi Emergency Management Agency. Womack, 53, has served as interim director of the agency since July and was deputy director prior to that appointment.

“When I appointed Mike as interim director, he knew I wanted to get through the 2006 hurricane season before making a decision on who the permanent director should be,” Governor Barbour said. “He has done an outstanding job and earned the position on a permanent basis.”

Womack takes over the agency following the July 1 retirement of Robert Latham Jr., who served as the agency’s director for six years. Womack joined MEMA in 2002 as a Response and Recovery Bureau Director following his 2001 retirement as a Lieutenant Colonel from the Mississippi Army National Guard after 29 years in active and reserve service.

“During my entire career, I have never enjoyed work so much as I have my time at MEMA and helping our citizens recover from disasters,” said Womack. “This is a tremendous honor for me and I plan on working to keep improving both this agency and the close relationship we have with county emergency management directors throughout the state. I think Robert Latham set an excellent example in the last six years about how this state can be seen as a leader nationally in emergency management.”

During the last 15 months Womack has served as the State’s Coordinating Officer for the recovery efforts of Hurricane Katrina. As the coordinating officer he is the primary state official designated by the Governor to ensure coordination of state agencies and local governments with their federal partners. He has also served in that role, or as the deputy-coordinating officer, for four other Presidential Declared Disasters, including Hurricane Ivan in 2004.

During his tenure with the National Guard, he served first as the senior administrative officer, where he was responsible for management of armories in North Mississippi. Womack also was responsible for coordination and management of all National Guard resources for a 10-county area during an ice storm in 1994. Following that he was promoted to the senior manager of the 155th Separate Armored Brigade, now known as the 155th Separate Armored Brigade Combat Team.

Womack graduated from Hernando High School and the University of Mississippi with a bachelor’s degree in music education. He served seven years in the U.S. Army and was commissioned a second lieutenant from Officer Candidate School, is a graduate of the Armor Officer Basic and Advanced Courses and the Command and General Staff College.

Wednesday, December 13

New Coast Promotional Campaign Unveiled

The Big Three, a cooperative advertising effort between The Ad Group, The Prime Time Group and The Guice Agency, unveiled the "We're Coming Back" 30-second television commercial along with a 60-second radio spot to the Harrison County Tourism Commission December 12.

The campaign will begin December 26 with the television commercial running through January 21. The radio spot will run from January 8-February 4. It will be featured in the Baton Rouge, La., Laurel/Hattiesburg, Jackson, Mobile/Pensacola and Panama City, Fla., markets.

"The focus of this new campaign is to encourage previous visitors to come back to the Mississippi Gulf Coast and rediscover all that the Coast has to offer," said Stephen Richer, executive director of the Mississippi Gulf Coast Convention & Visitors Bureau. "We look forward to immediate results."

"It's a challenge to market our destination in this post-Katrina environment," said Reed Guice, president of The Guice Agency and a team member of The Big Three. "We wanted to show our close-in markets everything we still have to offer in the best possible light and we feel like we succeeded."


Hancock Bank to Offer New Loan

Hancock Bank will offer a new type of disaster relief construction loan to assist area homeowners in rebuilding and repairing homes affected by Hurricanes Katrina and Rita. The Hancock Bank Home Recovery Construction Loan will allow homeowners to borrow yup to 103% of the appraised value of the home.

Dan Zoble, Hancock Bank Mortgage Division manager, said, "This type of loan takes into account the challenges homeowners face in trying to rebuild or repair homes after such devastating events. Being able to borrow up to 103% of the appraised value of the home allows a homeowner to obtain funding for rebuilding. The homeowner uses the extra 3% for closing costs and pre-paid items."

The Hancock Bank Home Recovery Construction Loan requires no down payment, and allows for construction periods of up to 18 months, during which homeowners are required to make interest-only payments alone, thus reducing the homeowner's financial burden. Hancock Bank officials said they expect the new loan product to be welcome news not only to residents trying to rebuild and recover from the 2005 storms, but also for individuals considering returning to the Gulf Coast region to live.

The new loan is available in Federal Emergency Management Agency-designated disaster areas for Katrina and Rita. Additionally, Fannie Mae must approve those areas. Fannie Mae will buy the eligible loans from Hancock Bank.

For more details on the new loan program, visit

Gov. Barbour Wants More Time For FEMA Trailers

Governor Haley Barbour is asking for more time for thousands of Mississippians still living in FEMA trailers. Right now, there is a February 28th deadline for residents to move out of FEMA trailers and into permanent housing. On Monday, a spokesperson said the governor has sent FEMA a letter asking that the deadline be pushed back until February of 2008.
Right now 26,427 Mississippians are living in FEMA trailers. Another 4,961 are in mobile homes with 84 percent set up on private property.

"I can't find anything right now," said Mary Jane Nixon, a FEMA trailer resident who has been looking for a place to rent. "It's hard because they don't have very many left to stay in."
In a December 5th letter to FEMA, Governor Haley Barbour blames Mississippi's housing shortage for making it impossible for most FEMA trailers residents to move out before the deadline.

He writes, "It's clear that the Temporary Direct Housing Program cannot be executed and completed within the current time frame..."

The Governor wants the federal government to give trailer residents another year until February 2008. It's a request the Mayor of Biloxi says is necessary.

"When we first started with Katrina with the trailers, it was going to be for 18 months with a possible six month extension. Circumstances are such that a lot of people are not ready to make the transition into a permanent home," Mayor A.J. Holloway said.

The Governor's request for more time surprised Harrison County Board of Supervisors President Connie Rockco.

"I know that we did, in good faith, allow the FEMA trailers to be placed without public hearings, and so I'm sure there will be some concern as to the year extension," said Rockco.
Rockco says while some people will make good use of the time, she worries others will abuse it.

"We do understand the importance of housing, however, we do understand too that if they have free rent, that's also no incentive to move to another area," she said.

On Monday, a FEMA spokesperson said the agency has received the Governor's request and is taking it under consideration.

by Danielle Thomas
WLOX, Biloxi-Gulfport-Pascagoula

E-Newsletter from the Governor’s Office of Recovery & Renewal

eNewsletter from the Governor’s Office of Recovery and Renewal

Economic Development Program

Coastal communities are currently applying for $500 million to fund economic development projects related to Hurricane Katrina. The Mississippi Development Authority is administering the Economic Development Program, which is funded by $5.4 billion in Community Development Block Grants handed down by Congress for hurricane recovery efforts.

The funding will be used for three purposes: traditional economic development ($340 million), rebuilding downtown commercial areas damaged or destroyed by Hurricane Katrina ($150 million) and community planning for the six coastal counties ($10 million).

Reducing the Cost of Flood Insurance
It really pays to protect your home or building from the risk of flood. Homeowners and communities who take added measures to protect their property from flood damages are rewarded with lower rates under the National Flood Insurance Program.

The National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP), which provides federally-backed flood insurance for residents in flood-prone areas, offers lower premiums on residential structures designed with flood mitigation features beyond NFIP minimum requirements. For instance, building a home just one foot higher than the community’s flood elevation ordinance requirement can result in a substantial reduction in flood insurance premiums.

The Mississippi Development Authority is providing elevation grants to compensate homeowners for the added costs of protecting their homes from flood. Applicants for the Homeowners Assistance Program are eligible for up to $30,000 to raise their homes or rebuild their homes to higher elevations.

Communities can provide their residents with lower flood insurance premiums by participating in the NFIP’s Community Rating System. The Community Rating System (CRS) is a voluntary incentive program that recognizes and encourages community floodplain management activities that exceed the minimum NFIP requirements. Participating communities receive points for undertaking flood mitigation activities and are given a classification based on points received. The classification determines the flood premium discount received by the community.

Waveland recently moved up to a Class 5 ranking, the highest CRS rating in the state. The Class 5 ranking will result in a 25 percent discount in flood insurance premiums for Waveland residents. Only three percent of CRS communities nationwide have achieved a Class 5 ranking, and a total of only four communities are ranked higher than Class 5.

All residents are encouraged to protect their home from the risk of flood, even if their home is not located in a designated floodplain. For more information on the NFIP, go to Communities seeking information on the Community Rating System should visit the CRS Resource Center at

KaBOOM! Playground Build
KaBOOM! has committed to build 100 playgrounds in two years for Gulf Coast communities affected by Hurricanes Katrina and Rita. Bay St. Louis was the site of the first Operation Playground build in December 2005. As the one-year anniversary of Hurricane Katrina was being commemorated, KaBOOM!, The Home Depot, Playworld Systems and Hands On Network built 10 new playspaces in just four days, investing more than $1 million. By the end of 2006 they will have completed 31 playgrounds with the help of over 10,000 volunteers and numerous corporate and municipal partners. Twenty-one of these projects have taken place in Mississippi and projects are being scheduled for next year, including a build in Gautier on January 30th.

KaBOOM! also is holding its University of Play in New Orleans from February 8 through February 10, 2006. This conference will provide attendees with information on the tools and resources available to build and promote playspaces in their communities. The focus will be on playgrounds, skateparks and sports fields. Various workshops will be held on topics such as refurbishing an existing playground, fundraisers, grant writing and more.

More information on KaBOOM! can be found on its website,

Alternative Housing Pilot Program
An announcement is expected soon from the Federal Emergency Management Agency concerning the Alternative Housing Pilot Program. Congress appropriated $400 million in June 2006 for the development of alternative approaches to disaster housing. Five states are competing for a share of the $400 million: Mississippi, Louisiana, Texas, Florida and Alabama.

The State of Mississippi has led the movement to find a more suitable replacement for travel trailers and mobile homes as long-term emergency housing. The first alternative housing designs were created at the Mississippi Renewal Forum, convened by the Governor’s Commission on Recovery, Rebuilding and Renewal in October 2005. The cottage design produced at the forum generated substantial interest from around the country on the issue of disaster emergency housing.

Since that time, the State of Mississippi has actively pursued the issue of replacing travel trailers for its residents. In June, U.S. Senator Thad Cochran successfully proposed the allocation of funds to support alternative temporary housing solutions.

The state has collaborated with an expert team of architects and organizations to create alternative housing solutions, including the Oak Ridge National Laboratory, the College of Architecture, Art and Design at Mississippi State University, the Federation of American Scientists, and the architectural firm Looney Ricks Kiss.

Master Urban Forester Program
The Mississippi Urban Forest Council is offering free training to communities impacted by Hurricane Katrina. The Master Urban Forester Program will provide 25 hours in urban forestry training to South Mississippi residents. In exchange, trainees must perform 25 hours of community service in their community.

Urban forests are the trees and other vegetation that grow in places where people live, work and play. This includes areas ranging from small communities in rural areas to large cities. Trees on public and private land, along streets, in residential area, parks and commercial developments are part of the urban forest. This training is designed to help residents better understand and communicate the advantages and expenses associated with the growth and management of urban forests.

Training will begin in January 2007 on a first come, first serve basis. Materials will be included free of charge. For more information, contact the Mississippi Urban Forest Council at 601-856-1660 or email Executive Director Donna Yowell at More information on the Mississippi Urban Forest Council can be found on their website,

Monday, December 11

No Matter what They Cost, Some Things are Just Worth Doing

By Kate Magandy
The Sun Herald

Andi Rushton could not believe no one was going to help Bayou View restore its park after Hurricane Katrina. The longtime resident of that area of Gulfport wanted to see it used again as it once had been, so she contacted some organizations who were rebuilding parks after Katrina. But she was told the Bayou View park didn't qualify for a makeover.

So Rushton organized residents and they got to work themselves. Tuesday, the Junior Auxiliary will present the city of Gulfport with a check for $20,000 to rebuild and redesign the children's playground at the park. The money, pledged by JA, will be matched with city and FEMA funds to buy the equipment.

Courtney Smith, the JA liaison, said $15,000 came from a donation by Coca-Cola after the organization's charity ball, its annual fundraiser, was canceled because of Katrina. Junior Auxiliary wanted the money to be geared toward children and teamed up with the residents of Bayou View to help make the park project happen.

But that's not all. Rushton got a donation of 2,000 trees from Fred Richardson in Virginia. About 400 were planted in the park; 200 more were donated to Bayou Vista golf course and another 300 were donated to the city for landscaping. More than 1,000 were given away to Gulfport residents during the Miracle in the Park day last month.

Rushton and other committee chairs such as Courtney Smith, Kathy Smith and Linda Ishee have organized volunteers, workers to bring food for volunteer workers, fundraising and the Junior Auxiliary.

Plans call for a walking track complete with handrails for seniors, stretch and rest areas, sidewalks and a wildlife area, and for refurbishing of the tennis courts. Rushton said in addition to asking for donations from present and former Bayou View residents, the groups are selling T-shirts for $10, yard signs for $15 and park benches for $600.
Roy Anderson Jr. and his wife, Weezie, are donating a sculpture; Allen Beverages is donating the materials for sidewalks; Roy Anderson III is donating funds to restore Minnow Creek and add some bridges.

The work on the park is donated, too. Rushton said Seabees from NMCB 133 are donating their time to help build the sidewalks, bridges and playground. The NCOs at Keesler Air Force Base, Flight Training 336 and Air Guard CRTC also are donating their time and talents.
Mississippi Power and the Gulfport High Beta Club have pledged help.

The point in all this is South Mississippi will do for itself what others don't deem doable. Rushton and others like her in Bayou View wouldn't take no for an answer. They got involved in their community, convinced others to do likewise and organized their efforts to make it all happen.

If all goes as planned, there will be a final-touches day March 10 and, in the spirit of "Extreme Makeover" a reveal March 24. Never let it be said one person can't make a difference. Rushton's enthusiasm for the project is contagious. She and others like her will ensure Bayou View's park will be ready for the neighborhood use again come March.

If you want to help, you can contact Andi Rushton at 234-4950.

Friday, December 8

'Hurricane Cars' Bill Introduced in Congress

Sen. Trent Lott (R-Miss.) and Rep. Cliff Stearns (R-Fla.) have introduced legislation S 3707 and HR 6093, which would help combat the roughly five million vehicles "totaled" last year due to severe damage, flooding or theft, including 580,000 from the Gulf hurricanes alone.

Thousands of these vehicles are cleaned up and resold with no history of the cars' troubled pasts to unsuspecting customers, a problem called "title washing." News reports around the country have documented that Katrina cars are turning up as far away as Washington state.

This represents a significant economic risk to buyers of used vehicles who may overpay for a wreck. And, it is a significant and unnecessary public safety risk to the entire motoring public because more unsafe cars are on the road.

According to Lott and Stearns, this problem persists because state motor vehicle titling laws are confusing and incomplete, and no central database exists to "red flag" all the problem vehicles. Buyers do not have enough timely access to title data at departments of motor vehicles or total loss data at insurance companies.

Bridge Coming Along - Completion Slated for April 2008


Project Director Steve Underwood likes helping oversee bridge projects.
"When you're out on the water, you know where everything's at," he said. "It's always in its place."

For the U.S. 90 Biloxi Bay bridge project, that means it's in about 300 feet of water spanning the width of the bay, reaching from the barges holding concrete pilings and metal forms moored under what's left of the old bridge, south to where near-continuous dredging keeps a work channel open.

GC Constructors, a joint venture of several major contractors, is building the $338.6 million bridge, and Underwood said the project is on schedule to meet the Nov. 13, 2007, deadline to have two lanes open. He and Project Engineer Tom Tavernaro said it's an ambitious schedule, one that will be a tight go.

So far, they have a quarter of the pilings driven for the bridge. There are 12 piers complete on the west side of the bridge; the entire structuring needs 72.

The bridge will differ from the one across the Bay of St. Louis being built by Granite Archer Western. The Biloxi Bay bridge uses pilings to the waterline that support footings on which columns are poured before being topped with caps for all its supports.
The Bay of St. Louis bridge uses similar design for the higher portions of the bridge with 85 feet of clearance, but uses groups of piles topped with caps for the lower portions.
"You can use a smaller class of crane for the piledriving," Tavernaro said. "Our maximum pile length is just under 100 feet."

GC Constructors hopes to begin erecting girders, which run the length of the bridge, by the end of the month. It could pour its first sections of decking by the end of January.
Crews have cleared about 40 percent of the old bridge out, with the debris beingtaken offshore from Deer Island to build reefs.

"I know there's been some questions about why we aren't tearing the main span down first," Tavernaro said. "Basically, we focus on what we need to start piledriving on the north bridge."
The bridge has two spans, with the north bridge scheduled to open by the first milestone. It will begin and end where the old bridge did, but swings out about 150 south of the old footprint.
GC Constructors has about 180 hourly workers and 45 on salary on the job. That total will eventually swell to around 300, with the entire project slated to be complete by April 2008.
Crews are working in a single 10-hour shift, six days a week, and so far they haven't had problems finding workers.

"Knock on wood, we haven't yet," Underwood said. "We've been very fortunate."
One of the project's bigger concrete pours on one of the supports for the navigation span was last week, barging in 630 yards of concrete from the Biloxi and Ocean Springs sides - about 2.5 million pounds worth of material.

By mid-January, they expect to have the main span columns topped off.
"Then people will really be able to see the progress," said Underwood.

Go to for updates on the bridge progress.

Wednesday, December 6

Mississippians Encouraged to Help Take Christmas to Coast

Attorney John Arthur Eaves, The Salvation Army, WJTV News Channel 12 and WAPT Channel 16 are inviting Mississippians to join them in celebrating the true spirit of Christ this Christmas.
“Christmas on the Coast” allows residents statewide to share God’s love this holiday season by adopting Hurricane Katrina-affected families for Christmas.

“As Christians, we often look around the world for mission opportunities, when God has given us this opportunity here in our own backyard to fulfill Jesus’ teaching that we are to ‘love your neighbor as yourself’,” Eaves said. “The main mission with ‘Christmas on the Coast’ is to try and create a typical family Christmas for these families and to let them know that someone still cares for them.

“Over a year has passed since Katrina, still 92,000 families will spend this Christmas in a FEMA trailer,” said Eaves. “These families are still bearing the burden of that fateful day. Our prayer is that others will join us in adopting these families so that their hardships may be eased during the time of year when no one should feel hardship.”

Eaves said those interested in assisting with “Christmas on the Coast” can do so by either adopting a family or making a tax-deductible monetary donation to the effort. “No gift is too small,” he said.

“We will attempt to partner families with similar ones on the Gulf Coast, and will send them information about their adopted family,” said Eaves. “Mississippians can either adopt a family and purchase gifts for them that we’ll deliver to the Coast or, preferably, they can travel with us to the Coast and personally deliver the gifts to their adopted family on Dec. 23, the Saturday before Christmas. There will be entertainment, messages of hope, a dinner and the exchanging of presents during the Dec. 23 event.”

Checks should be made payable to The Salvation Army (memo Christmas on the Coast), in the amount individuals wish to donate and mailed to the Law Offices of John Arthur Eaves, Christmas on the Coast, 101 North State Street, Jackson, MS 39201.

To donate or for more information, call the Law Offices of John Arthur Eaves at 601-355-7961 or 1-877-Eaves Law (1-877-328-3752).

461 DAYS AFTER THE STORM ... Where does Biloxi go from here?

By Ricky Mathews
The Sun Herald

On an economic level, Biloxi is starting to thrive, but if you are a resident who wants to rebuild in a low-lying area and you need guidance from the city about the future, you probably are not in a good place. There is too much confusion. And that shouldn't be the case 15 months after Hurricane Katrina.

The mayor and City Council need to take decisive action to implement the compelling vision that their own constituents have created for Biloxi. Nothing less will let them get the tough decisions behind them and enable the rebuilding process to move forward more quickly.

Biloxi is on the cusp of an amazing recovery. Will Biloxi's leaders make the tough decisions and create an exciting future? This can't be done one step at a time... one project at a time. There has to be a compelling master plan crafted with all of the new tools we have learned about since the storm. If you care deeply about Biloxi or any of the other cities in South Mississippi trying to work through this unprecedented rebuilding effort, read on. And hang on to this page for future reference.

In so many ways, as Biloxi's recovery and rebuilding goes, so goes the Mississippi Coast's recovery - at least in the short term. That's because reporters, national business leaders and other visitors hit Biloxi first most of the time. And what they sense about Biloxi's vision - and its progress toward realizing it - shapes their impressions of the Coast's post-Katrina prospects.
All South Mississippians have a stake in Biloxi's success.

So how is our bellwether city doing? How clear are its ambitions? And how well are its leaders performing in terms of achieving their goals?

Some would suggest not well enough and certainly not fast enough.
Biloxi's challenges go far beyond reopening casinos and marketing condos. Residents and retailers alike need to better understand their rebuilding options, and need to be confident that the city will help rather than hinder their recovery efforts.

Yet Biloxi seems on a course to manage its growth by granting time-consuming variances every step of the way. If the city sticks to that course, the outcome will be haphazard at best. The result could be condos overshadowing the publicly owned small craft harbor and overpowering condos scattered along the beachfront.

The 200-plus volunteers of the Reviving the Renaissance effort lead by retired general Clark Griffith (and coupled with the work of Living Cities) gave the mayor and City Council a lot to work with. Their tireless work is inspiring and absolutely sets the stage.
Casinos and condos cannot and should not be enough. But who in the city is demanding that expectations be kept high, so that Biloxi becomes one of the most significant rebuilding stories in American history?

Since the 2005 storm that changed all our lives, I've been among those working hard to attract expertise for planning. I sat on the Governor's Commission. I've been at dozens of meetings with people and leaders from all walks of life determined to make real Gov. Haley Barbour's promise to "build back better than ever." And I've seen many of those efforts produce encouraging - sometimes inspiring - results.

When the Governor's Commission brought the Mississippi Renewal Forum to town just five weeks after the storm, Biloxi Mayor A.J. Holloway and City Council members kept their distance for the most part. They watched as expert national planners teamed with their local counterparts to produce a vision for a Biloxi beyond Katrina. It was a vision that could accommodate the booming casino industry as it revitalized an urban environment we were losing before the storm. We could remake a city, these planners told us, that could accommodate a mix of incomes, business types and housing choices.

Yet while most of the other 10 towns participating in the Forum began almost immediately building on the ideas generated there, the Forum's host city signalled it was going its own way.
Back then, it was possible to cut Biloxi a little slack. Hadn't the mayor and the City Council had the foresight to insure the city against an interruption of casino business? Hadn't they led in getting debris cleared and roads open after the storm? And hadn't Biloxi's long-range bet on casinos paid off when, thanks to a new state law that allowed them to move on-shore and expand, future revenue projections soared? Maybe the city deserved a little extra time to weigh its options.

That's why there was little public opposition to the mayor's go-it-alone plan. He called it Reviving the Renaissance and announced it at his State of the City speech early this year. The mayor would take the Mississippi Renewal Forum proposals under advisement, he said, but his team would arrive at a plan that suited Biloxi's way of doing business.

Fair enough.

I was among those who helped raise money for a process that brought the national nonprofit planning group Living Cities and the respected Goody Clancy design team to town. Like the Mississippi Renewal Forum, this would be a cost-free opportunity for Biloxi to plan its future. But unlike the Forum, Reviving the Renaissance was a process custom-made for Mayor Holloway and Biloxi. The New Urbanist planners who ran the the Biloxi part of the Mississippi Renewal Forum bowed out of the new Biloxi planning effort, clearing the path for Biloxi to go its own way.

One of the issues that obscured the New Urbanists' arguments was the debate over preliminary FEMA elevations. Some in the New Urbanist camp wanted to fight FEMA on requirements that buildings in storm zones be elevated to levels that might make single-family housing unaffordable to low-income people and that would frustrate efforts to create welcoming retail environments. It was a romantic argument: ignore FEMA's new requirements and act as though another storm like Katrina will never happen.

But one thing many of us came to believe after hours and hours with FEMA officials was that the agency was not backing off the higher elevations. It was not going to be possible to do any meaningful planning that ignored those new maps.

So a key component of the Reviving the Renaissance plan was to be acceptance of the FEMA elevations, regardless of the temporary pain and political ramifications.
Accepting the FEMA maps has become difficult for everyone and every town. But it is a necessary step given that we must build back stronger and safer this time. A generous and sympathetic nation is watching to see how we protect ourselves from future storms. If we do not take every reasonable precaution, then the nation cannot be expected to be so generous and sympathetic after the next severe storm demolishes what we rebuild.

Is it any wonder then that each of the other cities involved in the Mississippi Renewal Forum process has adopted the FEMA maps with only minor revisions, if any.

How about Biloxi?
After all the discussion about facing facts, how have city leaders responded? The Reviving the Renaissance report emerged nearly two months ago, endorsing, as expected, immediate adoption of FEMA's recommended building elevations in an expanded flood zone. Yet, to date, the only thing the City Council has done is pass a watered-down version of the FEMA recommendations. In May, the council raised mandatory elevations just three feet, far short of FEMA's nine-foot minimum recommendation. And the council has refused to acknowledge any increase in the size of the city's flood zone, even though Katrina's storm surge inundated areas of the city far beyond the existing flood zone.

City officials are still denying the inevitable, still hoping to be rescued from having to make tough choices. The maps will be final in early 2007 and must be adopted at that time. By fully adopting the FEMA maps now and developing a plan that takes them into account, property owners will have the clarity they need to make better informed decisions.

Here's something else we all learned from the Mississippi Renewal Forum: The necessity of zoning codes that align future development with community planning visions. The New Urbanists won over many city and county officials with their advocacy of form-based codes that regulate the look and feel of streets and neighborhoods instead of regulating the use of buildings. Conventional use-based codes segregate living, working, shopping and entertainment so that transportation by car might as well be mandated. Form-based codes - especially the SmartCode advocated by most of the New Urbanist consultants - seek to replicate the feel of historic neighborhoods we love, where a wide variety of housing, stores, office and entertainment opportunities are within walking distance. Even the most inspiring sort of plan - like the one brought forth by Goody Clancy for the Reviving the Renaissance effort - needs a code to become a reality.

So what is Biloxi doing about a form-based code? Currently, there is no proposal in sight.
Gulfport, D'Iberville, Ocean Springs, Long Beach, Pass Christian, Pascagoula and Moss Point got the message. Some called it "the Gospel." And they moved forward aggressively, understanding how ideas from the Mississippi Renewal Forum could help them build cities that years from now will collectively be some of the most extraordinary in the country.

In my work as chair of the Tourism Committee for the Governor's Commission, our committee said that embracing the essence of ideas from the Mississippi Renewal Forum will enable us to recapture our sense of place and will create a region of enormous appeal. I feel strongly that this will happen because of the work being done in the trenches in each of those cities to adopt these new approaches.

I cannot overstate how important it is that Biloxi take a similar approach.
Biloxi has a lot of things going for it. Casinos and condo development will certainly drive Biloxi's recovery in the short term. But in the long run, casino and condo developers realize as much as anyone that the recovery of Biloxi's residential and retail communities is the only way to sustain success.

So what about the future? Who has the political courage to champion an unparalleled future for Biloxi, especially the peninsula? How do we recapture the essence of what was lost? Where is it safe to have single-family houses and where is it not safe? What is the plan to deal with that? And where are the city services - from the permit office to the public works department - to help get the job done?

In the cities along the Coast making major progress after the Mississippi Renewal Forums, there are champions. These people are learning new approaches to planning and taking innovative steps to achieve their cities' post-Katrina potential. They are on a mission to teach others. They are all learning and applying approaches that help affirm their cities' uniqueness and guide their development in ways many thought were not possible before the storm.

Who are the champions in Biloxi?

What's their plan? And what are their strategies for achieving it?

Biloxi needs to get this right - right now!

Let's leave a legacy in each of our cities that our children and our children's children can be proud of.

As Gov. Barbour told a special session of the Legislature after the storm:
"We're putting our all into this because the stakes are so high.
"In 30 years, when I'm dead and gone, people will look at what the Coast and South Mississippi have become. If it is simply a newer version of today, we will have failed those people... our children and grandchildren. If on the other hand, it has become what it can be... bigger and better than ever... world-class and looked up to by the nation as an example of what a great area can be, then those people in 30 years will say, 'These folks after Katrina. They got it right, and we're grateful to them.'

Now is the time - in every corner of every community in every county in South Mississippi - to earn the gratitude of generations to come.

Monday, December 4

Before, After, and Now: Air Force Meets Hurricane Force

Justin Hooks
The Sun Herald

The Pogue family was just getting comfortable in their St. Martin home when they made the last-minute decision to evacuate to Florida for Hurricane Katrina. Craig and Carrie-Ann Pogue had just been transferred to Keesler Air Force Base in Biloxi after seven years in England. They had lived in the house for only three weeks, and there were still several boxes to unpack.

The eight- to 10-foot swells that crashed into the Pogues' 2,700-square-foot home, on top of Katrina's 15-foot surge, had other ideas.

"You're just kind of amazed," Craig Pogue said about the return to his slab three days after the storm. "Not shock, but disbelief. Just... wow. Everything was gone. We just had the shirts on our back, and a pair of shoes each."

Gone as well were several family heirlooms, paintings from the family's time in Europe, and a 2,000-pound grand piano. The family remained with Craig's brother in hurricane-weary Navarre, Fla., for two weeks before returning. Daughter Madison stayed with relatives in Rhode Island for a time, along with a neighbor's dog that has since been adopted by the family.

A long winter of questions and insurance paperwork followed before Pogue said the family was able to move ahead with rebuilding. The work began in earnest in March; it's now nearly complete. With the help of his brother, Stephen, Pogue elevated the original floor plan with some minor modifications that increased the square footage to 3,000. Only some interior painting, trim work, cabinetry and flooring work remain, and the family hopes to move in by Christmas.

"Never for a second have we thought about leaving," Pogue said. "It's beautiful down here, we like it. We decided to rebuild pretty much straightaway... . There was nobody to blame, so we'll just pick up the pieces and move on."