Hancock County Supervisors Address Abandoned Buildings

The Hancock County Board of  Supervisors this week held another round of public hearings to address structures scattered across the county that have been abandoned or where no rebuilding efforts are underway. It's been almost two-and-a-half years since Hurricane Katrina blew into the area, damaging or destroying thousands of houses or businesses, but supervisors must follow stringent legal requirements before going on private property to demolish any structures.

Property that was in the storm surge has been documented by consultants with Neel-Schaffer Inc, then deemed eligible for demolition using funds provided by the Federal Emergency Management Administration. The Board notifies each owner of the property by certified mail, then holds a public hearing to determine the owner's intent. Monday' s proceedings were duly advertised in the Sea Coast Echo, and the Board's meeting room in a trailer at the County Complex off Longfellow Road was jammed packed, with some residents having to stand inside and others standing outside, waiting for their names to be called. Before the proceedings got underway, Board President Rocky Pullman wanted to assure residents that the hearings were not meant to be punitive, but were held to help residents struggling with whether to rebuild or demolish their structures. He said, "This is your last chance to have your property cleared at FEMA's expense." Pullman said if the property is later deemed a health and public safety hazard, the property will be cleared, and the cost of the clearing will be charged to the property owner through a lien placed on their property.

Board attorney Ronnie Artiques Jr. was put in charge of the hearings, and began calling out each parcel on the list, and property owners were then allowed to state their plans for rebuilding or demolition. The proceedings lasted almost three hours. Jim Brumfield, consultant with Compton Engineering Inc. said 64 properties were declared health and public safety hazards, and deemed eligible for clearing. Most of the abandoned trailers or structures were located in Bayside Park, Shoreline Park and Pearlington, but there were some located in Diamondhead and other parts of Hancock County. In some cases, property owners told supervisors they had plans to rebuild, and work was already underway, or property owners asked for a second inspection before declaring the structures unfit for restoring or rebuilding. Brumfield said 46 parcels of property were removed from the demolition list.

The Board also received five sealed bids from firms interested in the demolition contract, and Brumfield said the bids will be reviewed by officials with the Mississippi Emergency Management Administration before a contract was let to the firm deemed the low bidder. The contact could be let at the Board's next regular monthly meeting, scheduled for Monday, Dec. 3. Brumfield said the Board plans a final hearing Dec. 17 on 54 additional properties deemed eligible for clearing.