Wetlands Issues Delay Recreation Plans

Wetlands concerns continue to delay a planned recreation complex in Ocean Springs. The city owned land near the corner of Highway 90 and Highway 57 is at the center of a four year old dispute.

City leaders expected to see children playing baseball and soccer on the 120 acre site by now. Instead, they're getting a lengthy lesson in wetlands permits and mitigation.

"We did not know it was this difficult," said a frustrated Mayor Seren Ainsworth,.

Despite the delays, the mayor remains optimistic. The city-hired consultant is closer to getting the OK to allow some development.

"Basically the question is how much of the 120 acres. I'm hearing reports of possibly 70, 80 or 90 acres. That's going to be decided by the agencies of course. And also how much mitigation we'll have to do," said Mayor Ainsworth.

Some residents say the city might be better off avoiding the wetlands altogether.

"I think they need to find a way to donate that land to a charity. Perhaps a wildlife center. And trade it for some land that's a little higher. Maybe up north of the city if they get that annexation done," suggested Ocean Springs resident, Randy Hines.

Joshua Sizemore agrees that preserving wetlands is vital.

"This is our country and we can't be disturbing what we've got left you know. We've already built everywhere. So, our wetlands, we've got to protect them you know," he said.

Those responsible for protecting wetlands are on the coast this week sharing strategies for reaching that delicate balance between preservation and progress.

One challenge of the international conference is finding ways to maintain the sensitive environment, while accommodating growth.

Dr. William Walker is executive director of the Mississippi Department of Marine Resources.

"The coast needs development. We need the economic benefits of development. And the challenge is to do it in an environmentally friendly way. In a way that we can sustain the very things that attract people to our part of the state," he explained.

Such a strategy may allow soccer fields and wetlands to exist side by side in Ocean Springs one day.