Frustrated fishermen still waiting for pier repairs

GULFPORT, MS (WLOX) - A lot of fishing piers in South Mississippi are still awaiting repairs, and frustrated fishermen say repairs are long overdue. But what may seem an easy fix is tangled-up in a time-consuming process.

"I was fishing for mullet, but I've been catching sharks," said Clarence Ellis, who fishes the same Gulfport jetty about three times a week.

But he'd rather be back on his favorite pier.

"I'd like to fish right over there, where that crane is," he said, motioning to the nearby pier.

The trouble is this fishing pier, like so many along the coast, is off limits to everyone but the birds. Damaged piers have been closed since Hurricane Isaac hit last August.

"They should have been open by now. Lots of tourists come by and ask me. I tell 'em the hurricane messed it up. And I don't know what happened, they haven't fixed 'em, you know what I mean?" said Ellis.

"Healthy fish.  And plenty enough for a fish sandwich!" said Sam Brady, pointing to the fresh catch in his cooler.

Brady, from nearby Alabama, has a tough time understanding why the piers are still in disrepair.

"It's a heck of a resource that Mississippi has that's going to waste. People are driving by, these things come out to the end and they're just kind of in shambles," said Brady.

One fisherman told WLOX News it seems rather easy to replace a few broken boards. He says get a group of volunteer fishermen together, and they could get the work done rather quickly. But the reality is much different.

In Gulfport, the pier repair is caught up in an environmental review coordinated by FEMA. And a FEMA spokesperson said even though it's been 320 days since Hurricane Isaac hit, for the process to take this long isn't unusual.

Try telling that to fishermen.

"I think it's a disservice to the citizens of Gulfport.  At least the fishermen," said John Payne.

Payne says a year is more than enough time.

"We waited a long time for these piers to be open. And my goodness. It's been a year now and we're still waiting a long time for them to reopen," he said.

How long they must still wait remains unknown. The FEMA spokesperson could not give a definitive time table on when the environmental review will be finished.

FEMA spokeswoman Mary Hudak says she understands the frustration of fishermen. But she says the ongoing review is a thoughtful process that ensures no damage is done to the marine environment when the piers are repaired and rebuilt.

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