Marine Debris Removal To Start Early May

Tree limbs, a boat mast and other underwater debris clog the canals that wind through Timber Ridge north of Pass Christian. Waterways like these are first on the Coast Guard's cleanup list.

"These are the worst areas that we have been to," says Irvin Jackson of the Department of Marine Resources.

Jackson says they also pose the biggest threat to public safety. So, FEMA will spend $230 million to start what is the government's biggest marine cleanup.

"It's going to be very much like the debris that you find on the land, except it's going to be on the water, which makes it a lot more expensive to remove," Jackson says.

The money and manpower are in place. Still, Jackson says his agency and the Coast Guard are charting new territory. He says not even the cleanup in Alabama and Florida after Hurricane Ivan compares to what needs to be done here.

"This is new territory for the Coast Guard. They have never been involved in marine debris removal of this nature. And likewise for Department of Marine Resources this is new territory. The closest thing that we've done to this, and it's hardly comparable, is derelict vessel removal."

Once work is underway, clearing the Mississippi Sound is next. Initially the boundaries will be from the shoreline extending half a mile. Beach director Bobby Weaver hoped the Coast Guard would start sooner because the beach is such a big tourist draw, but he understands the need to rebuild.

"On these canals people live and in order for them to come back and rebuild, a lot of this debris has to be removed out of the waterways," Weaver says.

The cleanup of the Mississippi Sound could extend four miles from the shore if surveillance equipment shows debris that far. The DMR says as the work progresses, it may be necessary to ask FEMA for more money to finish the job.