BILOXI, MS (WLOX) - Mississippi is celebrating 20 years of public trust tidelands money.
Those funds, generated primarily by casino leases, are vital to the development of public facilities along the waterfront.
Each year, millions of dollars in tidelands funds are distributed among the three coastal counties and municipalities.
It pays for projects like fishing piers, boat ramps and environmental preservation.
"Seventy million dollars over the last 20 years," said Secretary of State Delbert Hoseman, as he announced the funding today at Monday morning's ceremony.
A celebration of the 20th anniversary of the tidelands act was held at the Biloxi Schooner Pier, one of many projects funded with tidelands money.
"When you think of all the things we've done, the public access to waterways, the constitution of all this public beach, this facility and so many others," said the Secretary.
Secretary Hoseman credited the "forward thinking" of state lawmakers who approved the tidelands act on March 31st, 1989.
"The main thing we wanted to do was preserve public access. That's the only way we could sell it," said Rep. Diane Peranich of Pass Christian.
Most every boat ramp and public pier along the Mississippi Gulf Coast was built with tidelands dollars.
"They've been critical to the development and re-development of the gulf coast. Just look around you. The pier access. The boat launches. Everything we've had. There's a lot of conservation measures as far as acquiring deer island and a lot of preservation," said state Sen. Billy Hewes of Gulfport.
One of the most significant projects under the tidelands program was the state's purchase of Deer Island.
That process began some seven years ago and the State of Mississippi now owns more than 95 percent of the near shore island.
"We did not start receiving a lot of monies until the casinos came in. Then they had to pay tidelands leases for all the properties," said Sen. Tommy Gollott.
Attorney Hugh Keating chaired the 25 member blue ribbon commission that laid the groundwork for public tidelands leases.
"It's one of our greatest natural resources for the State of Mississippi. For the marine habitat, the eco system, the seafood industry, tourism," said Keating.