GULFPORT, MS (WLOX) - The city of Gulfport has closed the long walking pier at James Hill Park because of long running budgetary challenges.
James Hill Park is on Switzer Road, just past the Jeff Davis campus of Mississippi Gulf Coast Community College. The pier goes for quite a distance over the marsh, but when we aired a story in August 2009, it was obvious that a lack of maintenance had turned it into a dangerous place. Slats were missing, and many of the railings were either missing or damaged.
"It makes you kind of sad," George DeCoux said of the pier's condition.
DeCoux is now retired from his position as Gulfport Parks and Recreation Director, but years ago he was the driving force behind getting the park built. Last summer, he took his concerns to the city council.
At the time, DeCoux told city officials that if they were not going to repair it, the best option was to shut it down. Finally, a few months ago, they did just that.
"I am convinced they did the right thing," DeCoux told WLOX News.
Council President Ricky Dombrowski pointed out that council members realized it was unsafe for people to use the pier. Dombrowski also said the city spent $14,000 fixing the boat launch at the park, but to repair the pier would be a much more expensive undertaking.
"This is a project that will be about $250,000 to totally redo it, using the same infrastructure," Dombrowski said.
The city is looking at its options right now, including doing some piecemeal repairs. And Dombrowski is hopeful that financing the work won't be a problem.
"The Secretary of State told us there is possibility tidelands money would be available to us this year, a larger amount," the council president said.
It was tidelands money and federal funds that initially paid for building the park. So it would seem to make sense to use those same dollars to pay for the repairs.
As for George DeCoux, he told us the idea makes a lot of sense to him.
Dombrowski added that city leaders realize the park is in a beautiful area, and they plan on making every effort to get its pier repaired and open again.