Construction begins to rebuild, restore Ship Island facilities

By Steve Phillips - bio | email

SHIP ISLAND, MS (WLOX) -  Tourists and visitors to Ship Island will now be sharing that spot with construction workers.

A long-awaited Katrina rebuilding project is now underway and will last through the summer season. The ongoing construction should have very little impact on people planning to visit the popular barrier island.

"Perfect time of the year to be out. Really beautiful. Cool. The beaches are incredible. The beaches are extra wide this year. They look like they've expanded by about 50 yards," said Captain Louis Skrmetta.

Skrmetta's Ship Island Excursions began ferrying visitors to the island two weeks ago.  The excursion boats will keep running through October.

"Our business is picking up each year since Katrina. We expect to carry about 40,000 people this year. Obviously, we need visitor accommodations on the island. Right now, we operate out of a temporary trailer unit.

That's why along with the soothing sound of the waves, Skrmetta welcomes the less familiar island sound of construction.

"The National Park Service finally let the contract for the reconstruction of all the visitor facilities. And we're ecstatic about it," he said.

"Rebuilding visitor amenities. Snack bar. Picnic pavilion. Ranger residence. Range quarters. Ranger station," said Gulf Islands Park Ranger Jim Graves.

Signs warn island visitors to stay clear of the construction zone.

"We ask that they not venture west of the boardwalk due to the construction corridor. They're moving heavy equipment on the north side. And supplies," says Graves.

Skrmetta says a sluggish economy may actually help boost regional and drive-in business, as people decide to vacation closer to home, rather than spending a lot of money on long trips.

Besides all the Katrina-related construction activity, the island itself continues the natural process of rejuvenation.

"You can see that we're getting some sea oats coming back. Getting a lot of vegetation re-established," said Graves.

The Ship Island building projects should be finished by early fall.

Along with the construction projects, the National Park Service is also planning repairs to historic Fort Massachusetts. Some storm-damaged stones that line the top of the fort must still be replaced. That work hasn't started yet.

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