12 Miles South renews campaign to halt oil drilling

SOUTH MISSISSIPPI (WLOX) - The debate over offshore drilling along the Mississippi Gulf Coast is heating-up once again. With tourism season about to begin, the group 12 Miles South is renewing its campaign against drilling in the Mississippi Sound.

A decision on a court challenge over the regulations for oil and gas drilling is still pending.

"The tourism industry right now is getting cranked-up for a wonderful summer. We thought it would be a good time to bring the issue back up," said Louis Skrmetta.

His family has taken tourists to Ship Island for generations. Skrmetta says if drill rigs start popping-up in state waters, it could devastate the tourism industry.

"There's not enough oil and gas out there, number one, to justify the effort. And just one drilling platform, one four story drilling platform south of Horn Island would just ruin the experience to Gulf Islands National Seashore," he explained. "The national park is so important to Mississippi. And it would be a tragedy if our elected officials allow it to take place. The tourism industry is against it. 85 percent of the public, polled, they're against it."

Representatives from 12 Miles South appeared before Harrison County supervisors Monday, asking the board to re-affirm its support for a resolution opposing oil and gas exploration in the Mississippi Sound and 12 miles south of the islands.

"Our tourism, our way of life, is dependent upon keeping our waters clean and our view clean and our islands protected," said group spokesman Henry Laird.

The Sierra Club and Gulf Restoration Network are appealing the way the Mississippi Development Authority created new regulations for offshore drilling.

"To say they were not thorough would be an understatement. The fact is, they just didn't do it at all," said attorney Robert Wiygul of Ocean Springs.

He's handling the appeal and says the MDA failed to consider the potential impacts of drilling.

"What you saw was they just refused to look at how oil and gas leasing was going to affect our tourism economy. How it was going to affect people who fish, and swim and recreate in those waters," he said.

Attorney Wiygul says his appeal is also based on centuries old civil law, which maintains that the waters and water bottoms belong to the public trust. And the state, in this case the MDA, must represent the public's interest in protecting those resources.

He expects a judge in Hinds County could rule on the appeal in the next few months.

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