HANCOCK COUNTY, MS (WLOX) - If you are a Mississippian, congratulations on being the new owner of nearly 2,500 acres of land in Hancock County.
On Wednesday, Secretary of State Delbert Hosemann announced Mississippi purchased the property for two main reasons. First, the land is almost entirely marsh, which the secretary said Mississippi Gulf Coast has been losing - 50 acres since Hurricane Katrina. So this purchase is very important to preserving our environment. The second reason is growing our economy.
Leaders in Hancock County said one of the best tourism attractions is the beauty created by Mother Nature.
"We have marshes, lakes, bays, hills and getting people access to this is important," said Diamondhead Mayor Tommy Schafer. "It's a demand that's there. We've got to facilitate access."
Secretary of State Hosemann said Mississippi now owns 2,483 acres of land near where the Pearl River meets the Mississippi Sound. The area is known as the Baldwin Tract, named after the family who has owned it for more than a century, starting with Gustave B. Baldwin, Sr. and his wife Lillian Leajon Baldwin. Hosemann said reaching an agreement was complicated since the land belonged to about 20 Baldwin heirs living in different parts of the country. He said the purchase opens up new opportunities for public recreation.
"I think the economic impact of this will be felt long term," said Hosemann. "The more we can structure ourselves to have people stay one more day on the Mississippi Gulf Coast the better it's going to be for every county down here."
Officials said having more state protected marshland is also an economic benefit by ensuring the health of the seafood industry.
"I don't have to tell many of you in this room is the key nursery ground for shrimp, crab, speckled trout," said Mississippi Department of Marine Resources Director Jamie Miller. "All those things that we enjoy from an environmental perspective to an economic perspective. There's no greater benefit than having these areas watched over and managed well."
Miller said since the state already owns property adjoining the Baldwin tract, managing the area will be made easier and more effective, which he said is needed for the protection of the environment.
"We're losing marsh in southwest Hancock County," said Miller. "Something similar is happening in east Jackson County. So what we can do now is begin to plan on how we can restore some of that marsh and create new marsh. Get it back to where it was 100 years ago or 500 years ago because what we can't do is sit idly by."
The state bought the Baldwin land for $1.1 million, but without dipping into Mississippi coffers. The money came from grants from the Nature Conservancy and from the Coastal Impact Assistance Program.