Gulfport Struggles To Meet Commitments To Orange Grove

The five year commitment to provide services to Orange Grove hinged on the city's success in buying Orange Grove Utilities. That happened in 1999. The city then started upgrading fire protection and water service to its new boundaries.

There was no shortage of water Wednesday night for Gulfport firefighters to put out a fire in Orange Grove. But the water didn't come from hydrants. Not all of the 33 square miles annexed a decade ago have hydrants.

The mayor says there is $58 million set aside to put in hydrants and modify and build new water lines.

"So we have a substantial investment already in progress to do that and, in fact, we're doing it everyday," says Ken Combs.

Combs says the city is fulfilling the promise the city made to the Orange Grove citizens.

"Absolutely, absolutely. I feel we've made it."

The city has two big projects fire protection and water service throughout Orange Grove. One plan is to build an elevated water tank. Both plans include installing fire hydrants and water mains. Federal money would pay for most of the work. The city says the earliest anything will happen is June, not exactly fast enough for the mayor.

"Frankly I don't like the way the time frame is shaping' out and materialized," says Ward 7 Councilman Billy Hewes.

He is one of two councilmen who represent Orange Grove. Hewes opposed Gulfport taking over without a public vote. But now that Orange Grove is in the city, Hewes says citizens deserve what was promised to them.

"I think the mayor and the city council should have anticipated those things, as should that judge who awarded the annexation, before they made those decisions."

Councilman Kim Savant told us the city will not meet its own five year deadline for providing water and sewer to the entire annexed area. And Savant concedes that could be interpreted by some Orange Grove residents as a broken promise.

Meanwhile, Billy Hewes says the council ignores his request to let citizens vote on a casino near Jones Park and sell Memorial Hospital as a way to raise money for improvements to Orange Grove.