Group To Fight Turkey Creek Development

The Permit Board of the Mississippi Department of Environmental Quality has approved a proposed business development in a swampy, forested area west of Gulfport. The project has been held up since 1998 by state and federal regulators wanting more information about pollution and the effect of building on wetlands.

Environmentalists and some residents in a neighborhood in northern Gulfport have opposed the project. Residents are worried that filling wetlands near Turkey Creek will worsen flooding problems in the neighborhood, said Rose Johnson, leader of the Gulfport Concerned Citizens Coalition. Johnson, also state chairwoman for The Sierra Club, said she plans to appeal the decision by the Permit Board.

The scaled-down version approved Wednesday was the result of negotiations between developer Butch Ward and the MDEQ. The development was reduced from 751 acres to 160 acres with more than 800 acres set aside for conservation.

"We have agreed to every detail, every item that DEQ has asked of us,'' Ward said.

Robert Seyfarth, DEQ's water quality chief, said Ward agreed to fund an escrow account to purchase and conserve more wetlands near Turkey Creek in the future; to build retention ponds to catch stormwater and reduce flooding in nearby neighborhoods; create oil/water separators, grassed drainage areas and tree-lined buffer zones to help filter and absorb runoff; and to build around some existing wetlands in the developed area, leaving at least 10 percent, or about 8 acres, intact.

"We've become very aware of the flooding issue in the Turkey Creek watershed,'' Seyfarth said.

Johnson said the last-minute changes to the proposal were unfair because the public never got to see the final plan and comment before approval.

More than 500 Gulfport-area residents signed a petition opposing the original development. If an appeal is pursued, the next step will be an evidentiary hearing before the same Permit Board, with opponents and proponents able to call witnesses and present evidence.