Deer Island Purchase Nearly Finished

Secretary of State Eric Clark wanted to buy Deer Island so Mississippi could keep it away from developers.

To buy the entire island, the state will use $10 million in tidelands funds, along with some money from the federal government, the Secretary of State's office, and the Commission on Marine Resources.

When Jennifer Diaz looks past her oak trees and over her white picket fence, she sees the natural beauty of Deer Island.

"I actually see just a beautiful natural resource that needs to be preserved," she said.

Keeping Deer Island away from developers has always been a Diaz dream. That's why a smile crossed her face when she heard Mississippi's house and senate each passed payment plans to protect the island's charm.

"This way the state, city, private organizations will be able to put funds toward that," Diaz said, "and preserve those areas and make them more accessible to the public."

Deer Island is 499 acres of trees and vegetation immediately south of Biloxi. About 90 percent of it is owned by the Sanders family.

Because it's been a private island, there's been talk about turning it into a casino resort. But the state is ready to pay the Sanders $15 million to save the natural treasure.

Hotel executive John Bosch said Mississippi is doing the right thing.

"We can take that island," Bosch said, "enhance it, restore it, and make it something that people, the children from all over the country would come over here and travel to visit."

Jennifer Diaz often takes her children to Deer Island to hike and to fish. She said even at $15 million, Mississippi is about to make a great investment.

"I think it's a great value for the state to purchase," she said. "This is something 100 years from now they'll laugh that we got it for such a great price."

The difference between the house bill and the senate bill is in the length of the bond payments. The house wants to pay off the $10 million debt in 10 years. The senate spreads it over 20 years. That will be sorted out in the conference committee.

The state is still negotiating deals with the people who own the other 10 percent of Deer Island. Those payments are expected to total $1.8 million.