Biloxi-D'Iberville annexation showdown heads to court

By Danielle Thomas - bio | email

BILOXI, MS (WLOX) - The annexation showdown between Biloxi and D'Iberville has landed the two cities in court. On Thursday, a specially appointed judge began listening to testimony on which city should be allowed to grow by slightly more than eleven square miles.

The trial began with Biloxi attorneys presenting that city's side of the annexation argument before Judge Thomas Zebert.

Biloxi Community Development Director Jerry Creel testified that if Biloxi wins the annexation case, his department stands ready to provide the full range services starting from day one.

With 37 employees from code inspectors to a flood plain administrator, Creel said his department is better staffed than a similar one in D'Iberville.

"We have a commercial building inspector, a commercial electrical inspector, and a commercial combination-plumbing-heating-and-air inspector that oversees the commercial area. Then we have a separate set of residential inspectors," said Creel.

As for D'Iberville, Creel said, "They have one building official and two inspectors."

Creel said D'Iberville's building inspectors double as code enforcers.

Katrina destroyed many buildings on Biloxi's Point Cadet, which was largely residential. Creel said the expanded flood zone has put rebuilding and insurance out of the average person's price range, so housing and commercial development have shifted.

"There's one direction that the city of Biloxi can grow and expand. That's north," said Creel.

Jerry Mills is one of the attorneys representing D'Iberville.

"That Katrina was forcing people north? Did I understand that correctly?" Mills asked Creel on cross-examination.

"Katrina, new flood regulations and other factors," responded Creel.

Mills then questioned if Katrina was really behind Biloxi's alleged need for growth. He pointed out a Census report done in 2007 that shows Biloxi has about 42,000 residents. That means the city has fallen about 8,000 residents short of the 50,000 residents it needs to continue to qualify as an "entitlement city." The federal government gives such cities grants each year to help low and moderate income families with needs like affordable housing.

Also brought up on cross-examination, were Biloxi's attempts in 1996 and 1999 to annex the same area being disputed now. Mills brought out how those tries happened before the devastation of Hurricane Katrina, one of the main reasons Biloxi claims growth projections are headed to the north.

D'Iberville attorneys said Biloxi has a northern growth area in Woolmarket which was annexed ten years ago. Testimony revealed that no major subdivisions have been built  in at least the last six years because the city has not yet provided enough water and sewer service in that area.

The annexation trial is expected to last though May 29. That's the day some residents from the area in question are scheduled to testify.

©2009 WLOX. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.