"It is a great delight to be here today to present the annual tidelands check to the Department of Marine Resources," said Secretary of State Eric Clark, as he stood with a group of state legislators near Moses Pier in Gulfport.
Actually, there are two checks this year. Nearly $3 million from tidelands leases; another $400,000 in special assessment for land-based casinos.
"In my opinion, very wisely, the legislature said if a casino comes out of the water, no longer pays rent to the state, that they will have to pay an assessment which will also to into the tidelands fund," said Secretary Clark.
The Ken Combs Pier is among the dozens of tidelands-funded projects. Piers, boat ramps and harbor improvements are the most visible results of tidelands rent.
Dr. William Walker, who accepted the checks, is executive director of the Department of Marine Resources.
"This is all about public access. And an equal portion of the funds are spent toward research and management activities that help us manage our marine resources," he said.
Jeff Hulum fishes from the newly rebuilt, and tidelands funded Moses Pier, two to three times a week.
Monday morning he was catching only, "a lot of crabs."
He enjoys and appreciates the pier that tidelands money helped build.
"I'm a school bus driver. So, when you get out of school at the end of the day, you want somewhere to relax. And there's nothing better to relax than fishing," said Hulum.
The Secretary of State's office has collected some $60,000,000 in tidelands lease money since the program began in 1990. And much of that money has been used to help public recreation facilities, like the two new boat ramps about to open at Ken Combs pier.
"It's one of the best hands on programs that we see as far as the public seeing an immediate and tangible benefit from government services," said Sen. Billy Hewes of Gulfport.
Secretary Clark says the tidelands program is still recovering from the impact of Katrina. Before the hurricane, the annual checks were up to $6 million a year. This year's amount was just half of that.