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Port of Gulfport’s construction plans on hold after opponents file appeal

Updated: Oct. 24, 2019 at 5:04 PM CDT
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GULFPORT, Miss. (WLOX) - It’s an uncertain future for the property near 33rd Street and 34th Avenue, where the Port of Gulfport wants to build a staging and laydown area for military shipments. The Seabees and National Guard are now moving equipment through the port.

The Mississippi Department of Environmental Quality issued a permit for the project back in August, giving the port the green light to move forward.

Now, community members are fighting back. The North Gulfport Community Land Trust and EEECHO (Education, Economics, Environmental, Climate and Health Organization) have filed an appeal, hoping to stop any future development.

“There will be consequences for the people who live in these areas, and you have to think about that. Do you want that to happen to you?" said Ruth Story, Executive Director of EEECHO.

Among those consequences, opponents said, is contamination. Decades ago, the site was the home of a fertilizer plant.

Howard Page with North Gulfport Community Land Trust said toxic runoff is still a very real danger posed by this project.

“They keep saying the property is clean, and that it’s been cleaned up, but it’s not. There is still contamination on that site. It’s why there’s still monitoring walls. That’s why there’s a clay cap over the contaminated areas, so there is still contamination in the ground and in the soil," Page said.

Another concern is flooding. For lifelong resident Glenn Cobb, he’s concerned about how this project could negatively impact him and his neighbors.

“We want to make sure that the wetlands stay there. Because anytime there’s a hard rain, then our neighborhoods flood, and with the wetlands disappearing, then it’s going to flood even more," Cobb said.

Port officials said all the concerns have been addressed. No contamination runoff has been found while monitoring the area for nearly a decade, and they add the project will reduce flooding by improving stormwater runoff from Turkey Creek.

Port of Gulfport Executive Director and CEO Jonathan Daniels sent WLOX this statement:

“The Port of Gulfport has worked diligently to improve the property to meet and exceed MDEQ’s standards and develop a program that would insure the remediated areas would not be impacted with the proposed development. The project will also improve stormwater runoff by redirecting water from Turkey Creek into Brickyard Bayou. Overall, the project has been built on sound science and is an ideal location for the movement of military cargo in support of our strategic seaport designation.”

Still, the opponents aren’t convinced.

“We don’t need this facility in our community. It has demonstrated that they can do this from the port itself, and I hope they use the port or the Navy base, or they’ll plop this on the Seaway," said John Johnson, board member for EEECHO and the North Gulfport Community Land Trust.

Opponents are now preparing for a hearing set for Feb. 20 of next year when they must show cause for why MDEQ should rescind the permit.

The North Gulfport Community Land Trust and EEECHO are hosting a community meeting on Tuesday, Oct. 29 to discuss concerns about the project. It starts at 6 p.m.

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