GULFPORT, MS (WLOX) - Mississippi State Port Authority Commission Chairman Jim Simpson says the Steps Coalition and Mississippi Center for Justice have tried to block the port expansion project, as he puts it, "at every turn."
His remarks came at a press conference Thursday afternoon to address a HUD report, which raises concerns about job creation at the port. Minutes after that briefing, the Steps Coalition held its own news conference.
Port commission leaders and the Steps Coalition have very different takes on that HUD report which deals the promised job creation at the port expansion project.
"It seems to us, candidly, that the Mississippi Center for Justice and the Steps Coalition seem to have only one thing in mind. And that is blocking the project at every turn. We understand they take credit for having HUD issue these concerns," said Port Commission Chairman Simpson.
"It lifted up issues, job concerns that we've had since day one. The first time we heard about the incredible number of jobs this Port of the Future was going to create, we were like, really?" said Steps Coalition Director Roberta Avila.
They held their news conferences in adjoining rooms overlooking the State Port at Gulfport.
Port Commission Chairman Simpson says the HUD report is flawed and seems to suggest that the nearly 1,300 new jobs promised will be Port Authority hires.
"Private businesses will come and grow and create good new jobs for our citizens and create wealth in our community, not simply additional government employees. All of these jobs will be a direct result of the expansion of our efforts here and the restoration of the port," Simpson explained.
Attorney Reilly Morse says the low and moderate income people who need those jobs are beginning to wonder.
"Where's the jobs? Show me the proof. And that's a fair question to ask. That's a fair question to ask. And it has been unanswered time and time again. And it is time for the port to come clean," said Morse.
Jobs are on the mind of Gulfport city councilman and longtime ILA member Kenneth "Truck" Casey.
"That's my main concern. Why haven't some of the union members, not at union wages, been hired during the construction process at the port," said Casey.
Chairman Simpson says HUD wrongly states that "transportation" jobs can't apply toward job creation.
"This basic error and mistake in the report further demonstrates that HUD, or at least these individuals that visited from HUD, have no understanding of the particular enterprise that we are at the port," he asserted.
Chairman Simpson said it appears the Steps Coalition and Mississippi Center for Justice are intent on filing a lawsuit. He said if that's the route they want to take, he urged them to file it "with haste."
Attorney Reilly Morse did not rule out legal action, but instead would rather the port authority sit down with all stake holders to discuss the various issues related to port expansion.