Pass businesses have high hopes for harbor expansion

PASS CHRISTIAN, MS (WLOX) - By Trang Pham-Bui – bio | email

PASS CHRISTIAN, MS (WLOX) – Home-cooked meals are the specialties at Sister's Marina Cafe. Sisters Rosemary Crowder and Virginia Grubb opened the restaurant by the Pass Christian Harbor this year with high expectations.

"Because we're right on Highway 90, there is no reason that we can't let people know we're here. The kids out of school in the summertime, that was going to be really a good part of it," said Crowder.

But the restaurant opened on April 24, four days after the Deepwater Horizon rig explosion.   The owners say business picked-up during the BP cleanup, but it's so slow now, the restaurant is getting ready to cut back its hours.

"The oyster boats, the shrimpers, the fishermen, we just don't have that. That's closed and we're right here," said Crowder. "We are to a point where we're trying to hang on as long as I can."

That's why Crowder is so anxious for the $28 million harbor expansion to begin. The city wants to expand the harbor to the east by adding 250 to 300 boat slips for recreational, commercial and charter boats, along with piers, boat launches, and extra parking. The expanded side will be three feet deeper than the current harbor. The plans also include moving existing seafood dealers, like Kimball's Seafood, closer to Davis Avenue.

"We have a very small, limited space. We have a congested area. Our trucks are coming in and out," said Darlene Kimball, owner of Kimball's Seafood. "With the new expansion, it's going to help my processing a lot easier when I unload boats."

The owners said they've been hit with a tight economy, the BP oil spill, and worries over seafood safety.  Now, it's the delayed opening of the oyster season. They said a bigger harbor would rejuvenate more than just their businesses.

"Oh, I think it's a wonderful thing, especially for our town," said Kimball. "We really need it because previous years, a lot of boats that want to work, they can't work because they don't have a spot to park their boats. We don't have any empty slips.  So with this, we're going to have more slips.  It's going to help the local fishermen. It's going to help us."

For the owners of Sister's Marina Cafe, their hope is to be around for the expansion.

"If I can hang in, I think it's going to be a great thing for Pass Christian and for a lot of the businesses that are in the area," said Crowder.  "We will not give up until it comes to a point where you have to make a decision."

The harbor expansion project has its share of critics. Some were upset because they weren't involved in the planning process and others were concerned about commercial vessels being put too close to the Pass Christian Yacht Club.

The project still needs approval from several agencies, including MDEQ and U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.  The city hopes to put the project out for bids next March and start construction in May. The city will unveil updated drawings for the harbor expansion on November 8.

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