Gulfport is fixing its piers; Biloxi still fishing for help

By Brad Kessie - bio | email

GULFPORT, MS (WLOX) - Hurricane Katrina tore apart all four Gulfport fishing piers along Highway 90.  So the city rebuilt them.  Last September, Hurricane Gustav destroyed the piers again. So, Denny Mallard spent his off day fishing from the Courthouse Road boat launch.  He'd rather be casting nets off the Ken Combs Pier.  However, "There's just no place to fish.  It's all torn up," he said.

The Combs pier has been off limits to fishermen since Hurricane Gustav damaged it last September. On Friday morning, work to repair the walkway in front of the Courthouse Road pier kicked into high gear. Gulfport hired Innovative Builders to dig up and replace some damaged asphalt. Included in the replacement project is a new sidewalk, and new park benches. They'll wind through the jetty area, extending from the Ken Combs Pier back to the Courthouse Road parking lot.

Contractors say the sidewalk is supposed to fortify the jetty, so the next storm doesn't tear it apart again.

Jack Roper is a fisherman who often reels in fish from that area.  He's also on the Innovative Builders construction team.

"It's going to be beautiful," Roper said, discussing what the recreation area will eventually look like.  "This is the most beautiful place in the world anyway."

Roper's company is only working on the jetty area.  Ken Combs Pier won't be repaired until the city council awards that contract.  That should happen on Tuesday.

Roper's company won contracts to rebuild three other public piers on Highway 90 in Gulfport.  They've all been barricaded since Gustav slammed into them, which is why Karey Keys cast his line from a parking lot rather than off Moses or Urie Pier.  While Keys enjoyed his morning, he admitted, "It was just a lot nicer over there.  They had benches out there and stuff."

In the next 60-90 days, repairs to the two piers near the Gulfport Small Craft Harbor should be finished.

Edmund Salloum is the Gulfport Leisure Services director.  "People are ready to get out here as soon as they can, and we're anxious for them to get started," he said.

Gulfport's fourth pier is across from the old West Side Community Center location.  It's repairs have already been completed.

Replacing public piers in Biloxi is taking a lot longer.  That city also lost Highway 90 piers during Hurricane Katrina.  But unlike the Gulfport situation, Biloxi's were never rebuilt.

Public Affairs Manager Vincent Creel says Biloxi has been waiting since Christmas to get FEMA's okay to rebuild the Coliseum Pier.  And now, the Secretary of State wants a new tidelands lease for that pier.  That issue is on Tuesday's city council agenda.

Biloxi also needs FEMA's blessing to redo the Lighthouse Pier.  Creel said, "The Lighthouse Pier is designed and ready to go to FEMA, and should be complete five months after FEMA gives us the green light."

The city would like those piers to be built out of concrete.  However, Creel said, "We've been unable to convince FEMA and MEMA to let us build concrete, so in the end they're going back just the way they were."

Each of those piers will cost about $500,000.

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