BAY ST LOUIS, MS (WLOX) - A multi-million dollar project that promises to protect the beachfront in Bay St. Louis from future storms officially got underway Thursday. State and local leaders broke ground on a $17 million seawall enhancement project.
Officials say the giant seawall will change the face of the Bay and eventually become a catalyst for redevelopment of a once thriving business district.
The new seawall will stand 24 feet tall at its highest point. But at least one Hancock County leader said a lot more storm surge protection is needed in the county.
"It's going to bring a significant enough seawall to the front of Bay St. Louis to protect us from the devastation that has happen to us already twice in most of our lifetimes," said Bay St. Louis Mayor Les Fillingame.
But shoreline protection is not the only benefit.
"It's truly about the rebirth of a business district," explained Hancock Chamber Director Tish Williams.
Before Katrina, eight businesses operated on the beach side of Beach Boulevard.
"When the seawall is complete, the businesses that we lost to Katrina will now have an opportunity to come back, to rebuild, to reinvest and to create a new attraction to bring more visitors back to our area," Williams said.
"You have rewritten the chapter on Bay St. Louis up to today," Secretary of State Delbert Hosemann told the crowd. "And I think today we've turned the page on the last five years."
County Supervisor Rocky Pullman is grateful for the new seawall, but he believes the county needs more flood protection. He's been critical of the Army Corps Engineers for spending billions on Louisiana flood control and much less in Mississippi.
"We, as a County and as a community, we need to stand up and tell our congressional leaders that spending $18 million, basically, on this project and another $436 million to replenish the barrier Islands, it is not enough of storm protection when in fact they're spending over $8 billion to protect New Orleans. We're asleep," Pullman said.
Pullman promised to keep pushing for more flood protection in Hancock County and said the seawall is a good start.
The entire seawall project is expected to be finished in about 18 months.