Judge rules for Aldrich Family in decades-long dispute with state over waterfront property
BILOXI, Miss. (WLOX) - A 20-year fight between a longtime Biloxi family and the state of Mississippi was finally settled Friday when a judge ruled John Bret Aldrich owns the 1.5 acre property south of U.S. 90 and west of Oak Street. It’s the spot where Fisherman’s Wharf restaurant once sat, and Lady Luck Casino would later call home.
“This is the only piece of property I have that I inherited from my dad and they [the state] are trying to take it from me,” Aldrich said. “My family has been paying property taxes on the land since March 4, 1974.”
The Aldrich family owned and operated the popular Fisherman’s Wharf restaurant before casinos came to town.
“My family leased land to Lady Luck Casino and Lady Luck paid Tidelands fees on the bottom land from the bulkhead into water. They [the state] didn’t claim they owned any of my property then, but they are now.”
The 1.5 acres sat dormant for years after Lady Luck closed. When the secretary of state started making claims on the property, Aldrich was under contract for development.
“But with ongoing litigation, the people I was under contract with backed out. If we weren’t in this whole lawsuit, there would be something on the property right now generating revenue and creating jobs. Basically they’re [the state] holding up development.”
In the lawsuit, the Secretary of State claimed the dry land was state tidelands. Aldrich claimed he owned the land by virtue of a 1784 Spanish Land Grant to his predecessor, Jacques Mathurin, as well as a century of gradual expansion of dry land done by oyster and seafood industries.
The judge found the Spanish Land Grant is valid and therefore “the public trust did not attach to said land.” The state failed to meet its burden of proof under the Tidelands Act, and the current shoreline is the southern boundary of the Aldrich property.
Friday’s ruling means Aldrich is free to pursue potential developers for the site. But it will still be a while before the public sees any change.
“We did win, but they’re going to appeal,” Aldrich said. “So it will be another 18 to 20 months for it to go to the State Supreme Court.”
“This is a great victory for the people of Biloxi and their history of developing waterfront property for purposes of the Public Trust for Tidelands, “said Biloxi Mayor FoFo Gilich. “Now, John Bret Aldrich can build a new business in keeping with the revival of Biloxi’s historic waterfront.”
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