HARRISON COUNTY, MS (WLOX) - Plans for a proposed oyster farming project in the Bay of St. Louis were discussed before the Harrison County Board of Supervisors at Monday's meeting. Supporters call it a much needed boost for the oyster industry, while opponents fear it will prevent future growth.
"We've got to diversify and put some private leases in place so that individual fishermen can control their own destiny," DMR Executive Director Jamie Miller told board members.
The Department of Marine Resources is pursuing a permit for 24 acres of water bottoms "between the bridges" at Henderson Point. Director Miller says that's a good site for a proposed oyster farm similar to small operations in Alabama.
"In fact, it's happening in our neighboring states. It is embraced by the industry and by the scientific community as a clean, no harm to the environment per se. And also, this is the essence of small business," Miller told the board.
Much of the opposition to the project comes from neighbors in the Henderson Point-Pass Christian Isles area. The head of the local civic association calls it a "recipe for disaster."
"This will absolutely kill the growth of our area. I can't think of a quicker way of devaluing our area," said Jim Heurtin, president of the civic association.
"Do we really need a commercial project, because that's what this is, in a residential area of the waterfront when alternative locations are available?" asked resident Nonnie DeBardeleben.
A representative from Half Shell Oyster House spoke in favor of the project, saying why should restaurant owners spend millions of dollars a year for out of state oysters?
"The Mississippi oyster industry is floundering. And this is a way that other states have found to not only supplement, but help bring back the oyster industry," Rob Hefner told supervisors.
"I would request from DMR that they seriously consider an alternative site," said Supervisor Marlin Ladner.
Supervisor Ladner made that request a resolution, but it failed on a 3-to-2 vote, with Connie Rockco voting yes, but "no" votes coming from Beverly Martin, Kent Jones and Angel Kibler-Middleton.
The DMR will hold a public hearing on the project and accept public comments until May 25th.