Dredging Debate Heats Up In Jackson County

There's been some debate over how dredged materials, or spoils, taken from the Pascagoula ship channel should be disposed.

The Army Corp of Engineers has proposed that the spoils be dumped in the Mississippi Sound. Environmentalists say they don't like that idea.

"The Mississippi Sound and the fishery resources in Mississippi deserves better than what we think this plan provides," Mark Thompson says.

Thompson is a biologist with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. He says dredging the channel would make way for ships to enter the Port of Pascagoula, but dumping the materials in the sound could force much of the habitat to leave.

"It does impact the benthos, the organisms that are fed on by shrimp. It does effect the migration of species and it does effect water quality," Thompson says.

Pete Umbdenstock with the Coastal Conservation Association says, "It's been designated essential habitat by the National Marine Fisheries but this silt is going to cover sea grass. It's going to cover oyster beds, spawning grounds for shrimp."

Both NOAA and the CCA say they want to use the dredge materials to enhance the environment instead of hurt it.

"We think we can create substantial marshes," Thompson says. "Economically marshes benefit our ecosystem,  fish reproduction and fishery production."

Several years ago Dick Gorini dealt with a similar situation with the Galveston Bay. He says they opted for the environmentally freindly solution.

"Virtually 100 percent of the material is being used to construct marshes, bird islands and other related habitat," Gorini says.

Gorini says it didn't take long to see results.

"Even in the marshes that we built there is birds that haven't been seen around that portion of the bay for years are now using these environmental betterments."

Department of Marine Resources Commissioners say they are asking the Army Corp of Engineers to create a similar program that would allow them to use the dredged material to either create a marsh or restore a beach.

DMR is still awaiting a response from the Corp.