Steps Coalition speaks out against port expansion

GULFPORT, MS (WLOX) - The Steps Coalition has come out against spending hundreds of millions of dollars to expand the Port of Gulfport. The coalition is a coast organization, formed after Hurricane Katrina, which promotes affordable housing and human rights.

The coalition says the money should be used for housing needs first. It's also concerned the land the port will purchase in North Gulfport will endanger wetlands, and adversely affect nearby neighborhoods. It also calls the plan "too risky" in these tough economic times.

This Friday, the port commissioners are expected to consider approving the ports conceptual plan.

You can read the entire open letter sent to the media from the Steps Coalition below.

October 22, 2008

To the editor:

The Mississippi Port Authority's ambitious proposal to expand their facility in Gulfport is ultimately the wrong plan at the wrong time.  Residents of South Mississippi still are not fully recovered from Katrina. The seed money for this project is $570 million dollars that congress awarded in good faith to help fund hurricane housing recovery efforts.  Because we still have neighbors living in FEMA trailers, unrepaired homes, and with relatives, this funding should be applied to housing needs first.  If there were no other problems with the proposal, we would have to object for this reason alone.

There are other problems, however.  The State Port expects us to approve a conceptual plan-and to do so quickly-that leaves many questions unanswered.  Will the land in North Gulfport be purchased for a transportation terminal, endangering wetlands and the adjacent, largely lower-income African-American neighborhood? Is there a plan to prevent the increase in air pollution caused by the added ships, trains, and trucks?  The Coast already has high rates of asthma and other respiratory diseases exacerbated by chemical pollutants and is on the verge of non-compliance for smog-causing ozone.  What will the true costs of the project be and how will it be funded? In this worsening economy, it is too risky to put a $570 million down payment on a plan that will require hundreds of millions of dollars more in public or private funds to accomplish. If the money runs out before completion, we will lose jobs and housing both. It is better to target something within our reach- doors into permanent housing for our fellow citizens.

We understand that the State Port of Gulfport will request that the Board of Port Commissioners approve the conceptual plan and initial phase of the project at their October 24 meeting.  At this point, the conceptual plan is too vague and its primary financing--$570 million promised to aid our friends and neighbors-too objectionable for the STEPS Coalition to support it.  Rather than squander this money on a plan that may get us further into a hole economically and ecologically, we urge the State Port Authority to answer all objections to this expansion of the state port and find secure alternate funding before proceeding.


James Crowell
Board Manager for Steps Coalition