Mayors Discuss Katrina Challenges

Mayors and leaders from the eleven cities along the coast gathered in one spot Thursday to discuss the ongoing hurricane recovery. They met beneath the steel skeleton of a storm-damaged building at Biloxi's Point Cadet.

Mississippi Public Broadcasting organized the town hall meeting. Mayors from six cities attended, with city managers or chief administrators representing the other five. The topics were varied, with one common thread: Hurricane Katrina.

"We think this is the first time this group has convened, probably since the charette," said host Gene Edwards, as he opening the broadcast taping for Mississippi Public Television .

With the broken bridge as a backdrop, city leaders covered much during the hour long forum.

Mayor Billy Skellie of Long Beach talked about proposed elevation changes.

"People trying to make a decision whether they can deal with the elevations that will be required and still enjoy their homes. Some people might have a problem going up steps and stairs," he said.

Multi-family housing is one alternative the City of Biloxi is considering.

"Still having a nice facade on the house. But it would be higher density attached type housing, like a townhouse, with a facade that would resemble the character of that neighborhood pre-storm," said chief administrative officer, David Staehling.

Pascagoula's mayor raised another issue about elevation and storm preparation.

"In the City of Pascagoula, we do not have a Red Cross certified shelter because of our elevation. So, we've got to look long term as to how we assist our residents, get these folks out of FEMA trailers," said Mayor Matthew Avara.

The city leaders share common concerns with FEMA trailers.

"They may serve admirably as a short term solution. We're obviously looking over the long haul in trying to meet the housing needs of residents on the coast, and the trailers just won't be able to do that," said Moss Point Mayor Xavier Bishop.

"It's just clusters of small trailers where FEMA comes in and puts the infrastructure of road, water and sewer. And that leads to trailer parks. And I think what we'd like to see is more neighborhoods with cottages than trailer parks," added Ocean Springs Mayor Connie Moran.

The panel also weighed in on the charettes and the governor's planning initiative.

"We had 550 new housing permits pulled in the month of March. And 95 percent of those are building back to the charette design, which was the post-World War Two structural design in the City of Waveland," said Mayor Tommy Longo.

The mayor of Gautier says the cost of planned development is a concern.

"Our people, the taxpayers, can't afford the concepts that these architects came up with," said Mayor Pete Pope. "It seems there's a lot of interest from investors that are wanting to come into our city."

Malcomb Jones represents the City of Pass Christian.

"We want to protect residential property, at the same time encourage economic development. We want to keep that balance," Jones reasoned.

The mayors of Biloxi and Gulfport did not attend the Thursday forum. Biloxi Mayor A.J. Holloway was with his wife, who was having some medical tests done. Gulfport's Mayor Brent Warr was out of town due to a death in the family.