STEPS Coalition asks HUD to pull Port funding

GULFPORT, MS (WLOX) - The State Port of Gulfport expansion project is expected to create hundreds of jobs for coastal residents, but groups like the STEPS coalition have their doubts.

"At the end of the day we're going to need the port to explain how this expenditure of funds is actually going to create jobs," said Howard Page of the STEPS Coalition.

Apparently, the coalition isn't the only one with concerns.

In November, the Department of Housing and Urban Development, which is providing the funding the project, gave the port 30 days to produce a Memorandum of Agreement between the Port Authority and it's tenants about job creation and retention, as well as a way to verify and track that creation.

That deadline has come and gone.

"Members of this coalition... put the question to the port authority, 'Have y'all gotten those contracts in place?' No, the answer is no. So, the deadline has passed and they haven't gotten that done," said the STEPS coalition attorney Reilly Morse.

The STEPS coalition has submitted a letter to HUD, asking that HUD suspend its CDBG funding if the port does not produce its job creation plan.

"The purpose of this money being spent is to create jobs on the coast, and the great concern of the STEPS coalition is that these jobs are not being created and HUD shares our concerns," said Page.

HUD has not yet given a response, but one supporter of the port says the jobs promised will come in time.

"I think by the time they get done hauling dirt and start putting up warehouses and stuff like that, maybe we can get more tenants in. If we get more tenants we can get more ships and we can create more jobs," said Gulfport Councilman Kenneth "Truck" Casey.

The councilman also believes that jobs could be created more quickly, without the elevation of the port.

"We have Mobile, we have New Orleans, we have Pascagoula that's not doing that elevation. We're all on the same coast. By them doing the elevation, that's prolonging the possibility of having jobs sooner," said Casey.

Officials with the Port Authority declined to comment on the letter to HUD.

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