Gulfport residents speak out on potential port evacuation site

GULFPORT, MS (WLOX) - Leaders with the Port of Gulfport want to use property on 33rd Street and 34th Avenue for container storage in the case of a hurricane. It's one of the multiple proposed locations for an evacuation site.

While residents around the area want to see the property utilized, they feel it's a contaminated area.

Thursday evening, those community members went to Isaiah Fredericks Community Center to confront leaders of the state Port Authority with their concerns.

"It really bugs me that we have a to feel like we're second hand citizens," said Francis Fredericks, President of the North Gulfport Civic Club.

It was a heated debate as dozens of North Gulfport residents and concerned citizens, like Fredericks, confronted president of the state Port Authority Commissioner Jim Simpson.

"Don't destroy our way of life," said Fredericks. "That's all we're asking you to do."

"We're here to talk to you before we do anything our there, but we're probably going to do something soon," said Commissioner Simpson.

He assured everyone the portion of property the port wants to use is not a contaminated section.

"What we're talking about using is about 21 of the 130-something acres," said Commissioner Simpson. "21 acres down here in the south part."

Still, some were not convinced, like Howard Page with the Steps Coalition. Page is the coordinator of a safe and healthy port and begs the port authority to choose another location.

"There's a number of properties that you could park trucks on and this is the kind of thing that we should have been looking into six months ago, three months ago," said Page. "Not now when storm season's already happening."

The timeliness was recognized by Commissioner Simpson.

"We've got a storm in the Gulf right now, and if it was coming to Gulfport and if it was threatening the port, we would tell our tenants, 'You got to evacuate,'" said Commissioner Simpson.

He said this is a potential evacuation site, but there's a lot of "ifs" and "coulds" right now.

If a hurricane forces an evacuation, it could be an evacuation site, if MDEQ gives it a permit.

But he said storm season is here, decisions need to be made and he feels this would be a good location.

"It's readily accessible to the port," said Commissioner Simpson. "It's an industrial zone. It's away from everything else."

Still, community members aren't giving up.

"Everything that's in my human body, I'm going to use it and fight bringing them trucks up there to 33rd," said Fredericks.

While a resolution was not reached, Commissioner Simpson assured everyone their concerns were heard and they will be considered.

He hopes a decision will be made in the next few days.

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