Long Beach Harbor Master Building rises from adversity

LONG BEACH, MS (WLOX) - By Danielle Thomas – bio | email

LONG BEACH, MS (WLOX) - Long Beach officials say after all the challenges and setbacks, it feels good to finally celebrate the opening of the new Harbor Master Building. At a ceremony Thursday morning, Mayor Billy Skellie cut the ribbon on the $1.2 million facility.

Officials say after Hurricane Katrina, the Long Beach Harbor was nothing more than sticks and rubble. Then as the recovery got underway, Hurricane Gustav came along in 2008 causing damage.

A quick tour of the new harbor master building revealed showers and restrooms that will make overnight stays more comfortable for boaters. There are also features designed to improve boater safety.

"In this facility, we have the weather station set up so we can constantly monitor current conditions in and around the harbor," said Harbor Master Michael White. "Also we have the VHF radios set up so we can monitor boats on the water as they enter the harbor."

The Port and Harbor Commission says the building can withstand 140 mile per hour winds and is 25 feet in the air.

Harbor Commission President Phil Keys said, "Building something like this. With these heavy concrete 85 foot poles that are in the ground here drives the expense up tremendously.

"One thing that we were required by FEMA and MEMA was that this building could not be any larger than the old building," said Keys. "That handicapped us a little bit. It's been a challenge."

Mayor Billy Skellie says two restaurants are committed to open in the harbor in the next 12 to 18 months. He sees attracting developers to the harbor as vital to expanding the city's commercial tax base.

"As we move along in recovery and they see the beautiful projects and our coastline and buildings and streets and infrastructure, they ought to want to be here," Mayor Skellie said. "We expect them to want to be here."

The Harbor has received two grants for future improvements.

"That's about $3.5 million in grants over the next three or four years," said Keys. "Have walkways, piers. Also to start our initial evaluation, engineering planning for a harbor expansion. We've had a plan for almost 10 years now to expand to the west to actually double the size of the harbor."

Officials say FEMA provided about $1 million to construct the Harbor Master Building.

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