Second round of vetting begins for Restoration Fund projects

Second round of vetting begins for Restoration Fund projects

SOUTH MISSISSIPPI (WLOX) - On Thursday, round two of the Gulf Coast Restoration Fund vetting process began with an initial meeting of its advisory board in Jackson.

After a challenging first round, both advisory board members and applicants have learned some lessons that hopefully will pay off in the end.

This included Rob Kirkland, CEO of Mississippi Gulf Coast YMCA, who is back for another shot at the money.

Last time, the Gulf Coast Restoration Fund Advisory Board thought the new 64,000-square-foot center would be a good idea, but it was rejected by the state Legislature.

“We were disappointed, and the community was a well,” said Kirkland. “But, we will keep coming back and we will keep studying what the community needs are. It may evolve over time based on what we learn through COVID-19 and research and how the community needs change.”

Kirkland said this time he will do what he did before, just harder.

“It’s not easy," said Kirkland. "You’ve got to be committed to this and getting your story out is imperative. The Legislators are key, the advisory committee is key and the community support is key.”

Last year, the YMCA was among 119 projects submitted. Ultimately, eight projects the board submitted through the Mississippi Development Authority was also approved by the legislature.

But, the legislature directly approved four projects that did not go through board vetting.

“It certainly is frustrating and disappointing any time we have a process that is put into place by statute and then that process is circumvented or not followed,” said Ashley Edwards, advisory board chairman.

Edwards was also frustrated that so many projects the board submitted were rejected by the legislature.

“We truly believe that the process we have here with the advisory board is the best way to ensure that projects are vetted and that ultimately that results in good strategic investments for the Coast.” said Edwards.

This year, 77 projects were sent to the Mississippi Development Authority by the Aug. 28 deadline.

The MDA will score them on the 15 Legislative priorities, and the advisory board will submit its recommendations by Dec. 1.

Edwards said that success is all about effective communication to get the Coast better heard to state lawmakers.

“We’re going to do a better job of making sure that we’re talking to the Legislature,” said Edwards. “We’ve already begun to talk to some of our local legislators on the Coast about potentially having hearings in Jackson so that we can speak to the recommendations we’ve made.”

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