Gulfport "Almost" United Against MDOT's Elevated Canal Road Connector
Hancock Bank Not On Board Opposition

by Keith Burton - GulfCoastNews.com
Filed 4/10/06  updated 4/11/06

Surrounded by members of the Gulfport City Council, Senator Billy Hewes and area business leaders, Gulfport Mayor Brent Warr announced Monday that the city is firmly opposed to a plan by the Mississippi Department of Transportation to build an elevated highway through the heart of the city.

"We are gathered to voice our opposition and concern about the southern portion of the elevated canal Road Connector," said Warr to a sparse crowd of onlookers gathered for the event in front of City Hall.

On hand were several Ocean Springs residents with signs opposing MDOT. Many Ocean Springs residents are upset over MDOT's plan to build a huge 10-lane, 95-foot tall bridge from Biloxi to their city.

"Why would we want to build an elevated roadway that will create an economic deadzone and reduce property values when there is a better, more economically sound solution?" Warr asked the crowd.

Warr said he will meet with MDOT officials today and urge the agency not to build the elevated roadway and work with the city to develop an alternative plan. MDOT is renowned for ignoring public and official appeals regarding projects it takes on.

In the mayor's presentation, Warr cited the agencies and several banks that oppose the elevated roads. They included the Mississippi Development Authority, the State Port Authority, The Coast Chamber of Commerce, the Gulfport Business Club, the Downtown Association, the Mississippi Main Street Association, Peoples Bank and Bancorp South.

Noticeably not included in the list was the city's biggest bank, Hancock Bank, and the chief financial power in Gulfport.

GCN asked Warr about the absence of Hancock Bank from the list and Warr declined to comment on the bank's participation.

In an interview several weeks ago, GCN  learned from MDOT's director, Butch Brown, that Hancock Bank is the trustee for least $102 million in bonds for projects connected to the  Highway Enhancement through Local Partnerships (HELP) program, which includes the Canal Road Connector project and road projects in Tunica and Jones counties. The Canal Road Connector is estimated to cost $300 million. The HELP program was developed by MDOT's Director Butch Brown to help fund and expedite needed road projects in the state. The county's borrowing is reportedly to be repaid by MDOT through state and federal money.

Hancock Bank's president, George Schloegel was at the meeting in the audience. GCN asked Schloegel about the Bank's position on the elevated road.

"How can I say?" Schloegel said. "I don't represent everyone at the bank." When pressed, Schloegel  would not offer a position on the roadway.

However, Schloegel seemed clearly aware of the details of the project. Schloegel told Royce Hignight, a GCN contributor and retired FBI special agent and also at the meeting, "We feel the route is the best possible," said Schloegel.

Hignight, has been active in transportation issues on the Coast. He opposes the planned road and would like to see another route chosen.

Warr said he is optimistic that MDOT will respond to his appeal.

Hignight had a presentation for Warr at the end of the press conference. Hignight presented Warr a copy of his article  "MDOT- A History of Deception," which is published online on GCN.

Update:

Warr presented his city's objections to MDOT official Tuesday. Officials said that any changes to their plans now would delay work on the project for years..