GULFPORT, MS (WLOX) - Mississippi is now the owner of another large chunk of Cat Island.
Secretary of State Delbert Hosemann came to Gulfport Friday to deliver what he called "great Christmas news": He accepted a deed from BP, transferring hundreds of acres of Cat Island to the citizens of Mississippi.
"What a treasure y'all," Hosemann commented as he looked at aerial footage of Cat Island.
The area is considered a treasure that's mostly untouched and thriving with forests, sand dunes and beaches. Now, Mississippians will have more access to the natural beauty of Cat Island.
"After two centuries, Mississippi gets its island back," said Hosemann.
In a deal struck with BP, Mississippi gets 492-acres on the eastern shore of the island. The parcel, valued at about $13.7 million, was paid for by the federal Mississippi Coastal Improvements Program. No state funds were used.
"This is not just a big day for Mississippi, it's a historic day. We are really looking forward to it being a public destination. I'm already kind of envisioning those excursion boats sitting in the Bay of St. Louis," said Bay St. Louis Mayor Mayor Les Fillingame.
Coast mayors also appreciate the barrier island for its hurricane protection.
"It'll block water coming out of that southeast, because that's where those hurricanes usually come from, the bad parts. So it would be good for all of us," said Pass Christian Mayor Chipper McDermott.
The state is also negotiating a land swap with the National Park Service to acquire 28.5-acres on the southern tip of the island, called Goose Point. Plans call for renourishing the eastern beach with 2 million cubic yards of sand, which will add about 40-acres to Goose Point. The project is expected to start in a few months.
The acquisition and restoration efforts are welcome news for one member of the Boddie family, which once owned the entire island.
"We're happy the state of Mississippi is going to manage it. We're confident they're going to do a good job with it," said George Boddie. "We need to get out of the island business and this is a good ending for it."
To ensure the property remains preserved, the deed comes with a conservation covenant.
"Not just the secretary of state, but any citizen of Mississippi can enforce that covenant. All three million of you own this island. All three million of you have the ability to protect it for the future," said Hosemann.
With the expansion, the state now owns more than 700-acres of Cat Island.