Marine Recreation Gets $7 Million Boost

The Forrest Avenue pier on Bayview Avenue is one of the few that Hurricane Katrina spared. Across the Coast all that's left are broken piers, boards and harbors where birds now replace the boats. So the $7 million that Secretary of State Eric Clark handed over to the Department of Marine Resources Tuesday will go a long way.

"Quality of life is what makes people want to come to the coast and it will again. Obviously, the coast is going to rebuild. And so I am proud the tidelands fund will be there to help the coast rebuild," says Clark.

Clark says the legislature deserves a lot of credit for ensuring the tidelands money remains intact, even while allowing casinos to move ashore.

"Had they not done that, then the tidelands fund would have been pretty well killed and our ability to help the coast rebuild with the tidelands fund would have been pretty well killed."

Senator Billy Hewes of Gulfport says the extra time lawmakers took to pass the on-shore gaming bill was worth the extra work since it secured tidelands dollars.

"I think the concern was the manner in which they were going to be paid and some folks said, 'Let's just go without it.' A lot of us said, 'No, we need to hold the line here.' The casinos see it as a cost of doing business. They see it also as a reinvestment into our communities locally, so it's a win, win for everybody," Hewes says.

Tidelands money is used exclusively in the three Coast counties and this latest donation will fund 34 projects.

DMR Director Dr. Bill Walker says, "If we're going to make coastal Mississippi a true destination area for visitors to come, there's got to be lots of things for them to do and access to the water is very, very important in all of that."

The state began collecting tidelands money in 1990. Since then $58 million have been spent on marine improvements along the Coast.