Drilling Rally Draws Nearly 2,000 Coast Residents
In what was clearly a well-planned and sharply run event, nearly 2,000 Coast residents turned out for the anti-drilling rally at the Coast Coliseum Sunday afternoon. The 12-Mile South Coalition hosted the rally to draw attention and support to force political leadership to restrict oil and gas drilling in the Mississippi Sound. The group wants all drilling to be no closer than 12 miles south of the barrier islands.
A large number of the who's who of local, state and national political leadership were on hand for event, chief among them was Congressman Gene Taylor. But it was also interesting to see who wasn't in attendance. Republican Senators Trent Lott and Thad Cochran were invited but did not attend. Biloxi Mayor A.J. Holloway and Gulfport's Mayor Brent Warr were not there either.
The 12-Mile South Coalition is a broad-based group representing Coast businesses, politicians from both parties and numerous citizens who are determined not to see oil and gas drilling in the Mississippi Sound, which current legislation allows in many places. They fear that such drilling will be hugely harmful to the Coast's tourism industry and endanger the revenues generated by the $500-million casino business, which local and state government receives tax revenue, and the over $1-billion in current tourism-related development that is underway.
Congressman Gene Taylor summed up the feelings of many.
"There's no reason to jeopardize our Coast from a few people who want to make a few bucks," Taylor said, receiving loud response from the audience.
Harrison County Supervisor Connie Rockco was the first speaker at the event. She spoke of the supervisor's opposition to the drilling and then gave an emotional speech about her first experience when her family moved the the Coast.
Surrounding the main floor of the coliseum, which was setup like a rock concert event, were hundreds of posters made by children in support of the anti-drilling effort. There was also an essay contest organized by the 12-Mile South Coalition and area schools. The total number of people at the event was hard to determine. Coliseum Director Bill Holmes told GCN that his staff had set up about 2,000 seats on the coliseum floor. About 2/3 of those were filled, while many attendees sat in the bleachers that flanked the main floor.
Part of the focus of the event was to gain public support to bring about a change in legislation that was passed in 2004 by the legislature that restricted drilling in about 60 percent of the Mississippi Sound. Supporters say that adding additional restrictions in the state's regulation will have an effect on federal rules, which could result in pushing any drilling into the areas supported by opponents.
Several speakers called on Governor Haley Barbour to act in support of drilling restrictions, but expressed concern that the governor's close ties to the oil industry through his past lobbying activities will require considerable opposition by the public.
The coalition supports the federal government’s purchase of the mineral rights under the islands as a way to preserve into perpetuity those national wilderness areas. The coalition says that those areas would then be permanently protected from oil and gas drilling or testing and the state would be paid for the mineral rights.
The coalition also supports the creation of an Economic Interest Zone as a way to keep all offshore industrial development from damaging the Coast's economic growth, quality of life and environment.
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