BILOXI, Miss. (WLOX) - A proposal to build a pier, a lawsuit to prevent the pier, a vote for a lease to build the pier, and now a Temporary Restraining Order.
All of this has taken place since 2019 when Biloxi and Harrison County proposed a lease with a local developer to rebuild the Veterans Avenue pier.
The Secretary of State’s office filed suit against the project, saying the land was subject to a Tidelands lease with the state.
The Veterans Avenue pier has been nothing more than a parking spot for birds since Hurricane Katrina destroyed it in 2005. RW Development has offered to rebuild it for the city, but the Secretary of State’s office has said no to that plan and filed a suit to prevent it. A hearing had already been planned on the suit when Biloxi and Harrison County agreed to execute a lease to RW Development to build the pier.
“We’re going to put an amenity there that tourism can use, sitting right there in the middle where people are walking right now,” said Biloxi Mayor Andrew “FoFo” Gilich. “The thing is we’re putting something so our visitors and citizens can operate.”
The plan by RW Development, which already owns land adjacent to the pier, is to build more than just a pier. While no specific plans have been released, indications are that the pier will include food services and entertainment while still keeping the pier public. The Secretary of State contends that the project requires a Tidelands lease. The city and county disagree.
“Our position is we have the authority to do what we have done,” Gilich said Monday. “We’ve done it with our Oak Street pier, we’ve done it with our harbors. Unfortunately, he thinks he has the authority, but that’s what the courts are all about.”
The issue of whether the Secretary of State’s office has jurisdiction over municipal property on the water has been in state and federal courts before. The disputes have been over who has what authority under state law.
“There was a whole set of conditions and opportunities with harbors, and there’s case law that talks about harbors and piers and the ability to do those things,” Gilich said.
Harrison County supervisors went into executive session Monday in a discussion over the lawsuit. County attorney Tim Holleman said he couldn’t comment on the suit except to say that the board believes they have authority over the land, not the Secretary of State.
Chancery Court Judge Jennifer Scholoegel, who issued an injunction against the lease last week, will hear both sides’ arguments in a hearing scheduled for May 5.