Environmental group calls utility projects "wasteful and damaging"

By Steve Phillips - bio | email

BILOXI, MS (WLOX) - New water and sewer projects that were praised during recent ground breaking ceremonies, are now coming under fire from an environmental group.

The Gulf Restoration Network is threatening to file a federal lawsuit against the Mississippi Development Authority, HUD and several utility authorities, claiming those groups violated federal law in the planning of nine different water and sewer projects in South Mississippi.

Sign carrying protestors gathered outside the federal courthouse Tuesday morning to outline concerns over what they call "wasteful and damaging projects."

"They stand to gain a great deal of wealth," said demonstrator Carla Castorina, "And the taxpayers will pay the bill for installation of these utility services."

Demonstrators say private developers are the ones who stand to benefit most from nine water and sewer projects in rural areas of Harrison, Stone and Jackson counties.

The Gulf Restoration Network says MDA and the utility authorities are guilty of "significant violations of federal law" in planning the projects.

Casey DeMoss Roberts is the group's representative.

"Congress created NEPA to prevent wasteful spending by requiring the government to look before it leaps, meaning direct, indirect and cumulative impacts must be studied before government funding projects can move forward," she said.

Several protestors say bringing central water and sewer to the Hurley area is unneeded and unwanted. Moss Point's mayor says there are far more critical needs.

"We went on line with our new reverse osmosis system. And water is leaking everywhere. The water pressure just caused water leakage all over the city because we did not put in new water lines prior to going on line," said Mayor Aneice Liddel.

Joel Carpenter says his well and septic system work just fine.  He's on a fixed income and resents being forced to pay for an expensive hook-up to a central system.

"They're fixing to put a burden on me. 'Cause I'm going to have to go borrow four or five thousand dollars just to put this system in. And I don't owe that now. But I will if they get their way," he said.

"This is a monumental misuse of government funds and a blatant abuse of power. We haven't had a choice. We've requested these decisions be put to a vote. However, that was denied," said Castorina.

Gulf Restoration Network is giving MDA and the others 30 days to show they have in fact complied with all federal regulations, before filing a lawsuit.

WLOX News spoke with Mississippi Development Authority spokesman Lee Youngblood about the group's allegations.

"We have a structured and thorough process to follow all environmental regulations. This is all about providing safer water systems that are more environmentally friendly. It's ironic that an environmental group would take the opposite stance," Youngblood said.

He said the projects are a critical part of the post-Katrina infrastructure recovery.

Youngblood added that the new rural systems will allow more people to move away from the surge zones and farther north.

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