$16M Woolmarket wastewater treatment facility underused?

HARRISON COUNTY, MS (WLOX) - Did politicians rush to build a $16 million wastewater treatment facility with federal funds received after Hurricane Katrina? That's what some residents living on Shorecrest Road near the Woolmarket plant say.

Larry Rouse owns 38 acres off Shorecrest Road. His grandparents purchased the land for $15 back in 1926. The property, lined with majestic oak trees, was considered prime property for future housing development.

"It's just been a travesty, especially for the area because this was gorgeous property through here and it was all zoned residential," Rouse said.

Jim Walker's parents also own property off Shorecrest Road, which has been in his family for generations. He said instead of spending millions on a new wastewater plant, he's seen research that shows a pipe system could have met the wastewater needs.

Sixteen million dollars from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development is being used to build the still unfinished plant.

"That plant is not being used, there won't be users for that plant in our lifetime," Walker stated. "That plant was a rip off of the tax payers, the rate payers and the landowners."

Right before Hurricane Katrina, several studies estimated that Harrison County's population would jump in population by the year 2025.

"They did a population growth study," Walker said.  "IHL did one, the Board of Supervisors did one and the Mississippi Engineering did one and they showed a 60 or 70 percent population growth north of I-10, to try to justify the plant. Those growth studies will never reach that point."

Larry Rouse agrees.

"I understand that at one time after Katrina they were expecting a 50 percent growth population in this area and it turned out to be a negative one percent," Rouse said.

Back in May of 2009, then State Senator Billy Hewes sent a letter to Governor Haley Barbour because he had questions about the Shorecrest Road wastewater site. In that letter, he stated he had concerns over appraisal inconsistencies, legal and engineering fees and lack of public knowledge of the development. Hewes wanted to make sure the most appropriate site was selected for the long-term development of our coastal region.

Instead, Hewes said that prime property was destroyed when construction started on the wastewater treatment facility.

"I think they had the right idea to build the plant, but there is a better site in my opinion further behind the cemetery that nobody is going to develop," Hewes said. "This particular plant was put on what I consider some of the most developable and desirable property in Harrison County. And by putting that plant right in the middle of it, it really had a detrimental effect on the immediate plan, as well as the surrounding properties that might have otherwise had interest to people for developed purposes."

"This beautiful piece of real estate was zoned for residential housing," Walker said. "You couldn't put a bird cage out here today. Not next to a sewer treatment plant."

A reliable source told WLOX News the Shorecrest Road wastewater facility is operational, but does not have a certificate of occupancy to operate. And according to our source it may take years before enough customers move into the area to fully operate the plant.

Even if a planned 200 unit housing development is built, it would represent only one percent of the flow that is needed to operate the facility.

Meanwhile, Harrison County Utility Authority Attorney Jim Simpson, a representative with the City of Biloxi and Harrison County Supervisor Kim Savant said they couldn't comment on the story, since they can't discuss pending litigation.

Harrison County Supervisor Connie Rockco says she was long opposed to the Shorecrest Road facility in Woolmarket.

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