PEER report rekindles debate about port job creation

GULFPORT, MS (WLOX) - The PEER committee released its report Friday about the Port of Gulfport project. And that 92 page review has sparked new debate and disagreement about job creation.

Jobs have long been the primary focus of that half-billion dollar port project. The PEER reports says the State Port at Gulfport will be unable to meet the job creation objectives demanded by HUD. And while some people are saying "we told you so," port leaders remain confident those 1200 new jobs are still coming.

"Well, there's two issues there. Are we going to make the numbers? And secondly, by when?" said Port Authority Board President Jim Simpson.

Simpson takes issue with the PEER assertion that the port will be unable to meet the job objectives. And he says, keep in mind, the deadline for creating those 1200 jobs is three years after construction is finished.

"We disagree with PEER on the job creation. We think we can make it. We understand the maritime business and maritime commerce. The people we have hired, the experts and people from all over the country sent to evaluate and look at this and see if we're right, agree with us. They don't agree with PEER," Simpson explained.

State Representative Sonya Williams-Barnes says many of her constituents have been waiting on those promised jobs at the port. She says besides those still-years-away permanent port jobs, there were construction jobs that never materialized.

"So, it's kind of a slap in my face, because I've been expressing what's been told me by the administration and by the Port of Gulfport. That these jobs are coming. And so, I've been giving them that hope. And now I'm left without hope as well as they are," said Rep. Williams-Barnes.

The STEPS coalition has been questioning the job numbers for more than two years. Howard Page says the PEER findings are vindication.

"We've been working on it so long that we're kind of past frustration and we're just glad the truth is finally coming out. Everybody except the MDA and the port realize that this project is not creating jobs. And that it's wasting money and not being well managed," said Page.

Jim Simpson says, time will tell.  And the determination of port leaders is unwavering.

"Confident and optimistic. That's our task. That's our assignment. And we're doing everything we can to meet it. We think we can," said Simpson.

Then there's the question of dates. The PEER report talks about the port project not meeting the job creation goals by 2015. Port leaders say, not 2015, but three years after construction is done. That could be as late as the third quarter of 2019.

Finally, the report says MDA has projected the job target can't be met until 2035. When we asked for clarification, a port spokesman told WLOX News that was a number based on 3 percent growth per year.

The port is sticking with that "three years after we finish building" deadline.

You can read the full text of the PEER report here:

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