Gulfport councilman says port should "terminate" its consultant

GULFPORT, MS (WLOX) - Gulfport councilman Rusty Walker says it's time for commissioners at the Mississippi State Port at Gulfport to terminate the contract with CH2M Hill.  After Hurricane Katrina, that company helped develop the Port of the Future concept, and helped secure nearly $600 million in federal money to expand the port.

According to Walker, the economic models used by CH2M Hill, and shared with the community and state leaders, had mistakes in them.  And that, the councilman believes, has created all sort of problems for port commissioners.  "The seemingly flawed assumptions used in the economic modeling promoted to the public have had our local port staff and commission struggling to live up to expectations unreasonably set by others," he wrote in an email to WLOX News.

The Walker email comes just as the PEER committee is reviewing its findings about the Port of Gulfport.  So far, those findings have not been released to the public.

Port leaders contend the report shouldn't be released until it's factually correct.  Back in June, the port commission president wrote a letter to PEER committee members saying the PEER draft report had mistakes in it.  "A factually incorrect and misleading report by PEER could jeopardize the project and threaten the state's ability to utilize this disaster recovery grant, as well as any future grants from HUD," commissioner Jim Simpson and MDA executive director Brent Christensen wrote.

On Tuesday, Gulfport representative Sonya Williams Barnes sent a letter to PEER committee members.  Williams Barnes says it's time to release the report, and get a real debate started about the Port of Gulfport's future.  "If MDA and the State Port disagree with PEER's findings and conclusions, then include their response as an appendix," she wrote.  "We as legislators need both for an informed debate.  The public is entitled to know what this report has found."

The Port of Gulfport's new director says there's a lot at stake.  So, releasing any report about the Port of the Future project needs to be done with painstaking accuracy.  "The Port and the Mississippi Development Authority have been going to great lengths to make sure that the information contained in PEER's final report is accurate," said port director Jonathan Daniels.

The PEER committee is scheduled to meet on Wednesday.

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