Gulfport Harbor Project Concerns Large Boat Owners

By Brad Kessie - bio | email

GULFPORT, MS (WLOX) - Gulfport's new small craft harbor will have 318 boat slips, and six piers. The length of those piers are causing some controversy. Engineers designed the piers to stretch across much of the harbor area. Yet, several boaters say that may cause a navigational hazard, especially for larger boats.

Louis Skrmetta has a copy of what engineers picture Gulfport's new harbor looking like.

"This is our dock, 180 feet long right here," he said, pointing to the engineer's blueprint. "This is a great plan. It's beautiful. I love the dock designs."

What Skrmetta doesn't like is the added length of each dock. Skrmetta fears that the 900 foot docks will extend so far into the water, they'll interfere with the turning capability of his ferry boats, and other large vessels in the harbor area.

"We need at least 250 feet to maneuver our boat. And we're hoping the city will work with us on that," he said.

Gulfport's mayor says that's not going to happen.

"The plans that we have today are the plans we're moving forward with," Mayor Warr said. "We're not able to go back to the drawing board anymore."

Warr says accommodations will be made, so larger vessels have good access around the rebuilt small craft harbor.

"They don't need to be concerned. We'll find them a place that works well for them. And they'll be happy," he said.

To protect themselves in the future, boaters like Douglas Cockerham and David Keith are trying to form a new boat owners association. Keith moved his vessel to Biloxi after Point Cadet Marina was rebuilt. But he wants to return to Gulfport. Before he does, he says he wants to make sure the city doesn't "jam us in" like the vessel in Biloxi.

Skrmetta has his own concern.

"The only problem I have with it is the same issue that we've been talking to the city about for almost two years," he said, "that this first pier is too long and it's going to adversely impact our navigation in and out of our dock."

Harbor dredging started a week ago, nearly three years after Katrina left thousands of cubic yards of gooey debris at the bottom of the yacht basin.

"It's time," Mayor Warr said. "We've been waiting on it a long, long while."

The dredging should take until the end of year. City leaders think new docks will be rebuilt by next fall.

The staff at Brady's Bait Shop looks forward to that day.

"See the progress of the harbor getting dredged for the fishermen and the boaters," bait shop operator John Bobinger said, "get some boats back in the harbor down here. It will be a really good thing."

Once the small craft harbor reopens, Gulfport will relocate its boat launch. In fact, the DMR just opened the public comment period to hear what boaters think about a new launch area next to Moses Pier.