Secretary of State wants beach management agreement

By Steve Phillips - bio | email

GULFPORT, MS (WLOX)-Harrison County supervisors met with the Secretary of State Monday afternoon to discuss 'who' has authority and responsibility over the sand beach.

Secretary Delbert Hosemann has asked the board to approve a "memorandum of understanding" that covers everything from beach maintenance to beach vendor licenses.

County supervisors have plenty of questions and concerns about the agreement.

"We would like to participate with the board of supervisors of Harrison County in managing the sand beach," said Secretary of State Delbert Hoseman.

He told supervisors the beach oversight is like a landlord-tenant relationship. His office is the landlord; Harrison County the tenant. The proposed agreement gives the Secretary of State final authority on nearly all decisions regarding the beach.

"Anything that we do would require approval from your office. And we just, under this particular document, would be nothing but an administrative arm, a management arm of your office," said supervisor Marlin Ladner.

The Secretary of State wants a competitive bidding process for beach vendors. Supervisors voiced concern about giving longtime vendors fair warning about proposed changes.

"So those people will know that in a couple years, the license you think you always had a right to, may not be yours if you're outbid. So, you need to be prepared for that. But just to come in and tell them right now, bam, boom. I don't want to be a part of that," said supervisor William Martin.

"The beach hasn't come back. And those guys have really taken a beating. So as small business owners, I really have a concern for those small business owners," says supervisor Windy Swetman.

Secretary Hoseman insisted he's "not" trying to wrestle away sand beach authority from the board of supervisors.

"I can't give you and would not give you the ownership to the property. But clearly, the culture of the coast comes from the determinations that you all make," he told the board.

Secretary Hoseman told the board he's prepared to lobby the legislature for additional funds to help cover the cost of maintaining the beach.