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Jackson County: Two Years After Katrina

From: Jackson County     Ken Flanagan   Filed 8/24/07 GCN

The second year of post-Katrina recovery marked a time of significant improvement for Jackson County but also brought into focus several challenging areas. From recreation to repairing office space, the County has steadily pushed forward reestablishing full services for our citizens.

As the entire Coast moves beyond Katrina’s two year benchmark, Jackson County still faces major hurdles including permanent housing for the 3,000 families still in FEMA trailers, new zoning requirements, abandoned property, and reimbursement of Katrina repairs.

Below is a summary of the County’s post-Katrina accomplishments in the last year.

County-wide Fair returned- Oct. 2006

The skyline over the Jackson County Fairgrounds came to life with spinning streams of light and the smell of fresh gumbo as the Fair returned on Oct. 15-22. This marked the 85th anniversary of the fair and the resumption of a fall tradition in Jackson County.

“This year was especially meaningful since we were forced to postpone the previous fair due to Hurricane Katrina. We were thrilled to be holding the regions’ largest free admission fair again,” said Alan Smith, JC Fair Board.

Rebuilt Lake Mars Pier- Nov. 2006

County began major repair work on the Lake Mars Pier in the Gulf Park Estates Community. Prior to Katrina, the pier was one of the most popular in the County for fishing and crabbing.

Katrina knocked out the pier’s railing, deck boards, 35 pilings, and heavily damaged the gazebo.  Along with repairs, the County also added new lighting, a larger beach and additional parking. Construction crews finished repair work in Feb. 2007.

Re-opened County Courts Complex- Dec. 2006

Following more than $2 million in Hurricane Katrina repairs to the courthouse complex, the Jackson County Board of Supervisors officially reopened the Courts Building on Dec. 19 with a ribbon cutting ceremony.

The Courts Building is the backbone of the County’s court system housing nine courtrooms, seven judges’ offices, three court administrators’ offices, Chancery Clerk’s offices and Drug Court offices. Hurricane Katrina pushed more than four feet of storm surge into the building’s first floor and caused significant wind damage to the roof.

“This was a tremendous step forward in the County’s recovery process. Reopening this building was about more than office space. It was about restoring the County’s court system, restoring service to our citizens and restoring a vital element to Downtown Pascagoula,” 2006 Board President Robert R. Norvel, Sr. said.

County opens new Office Building- Jan. 2007

Six displaced County departments moved into their new permanent offices in early Jan. 2007. The Board purchased the former “Unemployment Office” on Amonett Street in Pascagoula for $495,000 as its newest office complex in late 2006. A majority of that cost will be reimbursed through FEMA’s Public Assistance program.

The 11,564 square foot building was completely remodeled by the County’s Maintenance Department. All six departments- Election Commission, County Archives, Coroner’s Office, Mass Tort, Extension Service Office and Veteran’s Affairs Office- were forced to moved after Hurricane Katrina flooded each of their offices.

County awarded $8 M grant for new service complex- March 2007

The County was notified it would receive an $8 million federal block grant from the Department of Housing and Urban Development to build a new office complex in downtown Pascagoula in March 2006.

The new complex will house more than 100 County employees still working out of temporary offices at the County’s Fairgrounds. The County has completed an early design plan for the new service complex and will begin detailed architectural plans this fall. The initial design calls for a four story office complex located directly south of the current Courthouse Complex.

Storm debris cleared from Ocean Springs Harbor- April 2007

More than 200 cubic yards of hurricane debris was removed from the County’s Ocean Springs Harbor by the U.S. Coast Guard in April. The removal allowed the harbor to reopen several block boat slips and allowed more of the water channel to be used.

Despite heavy damage, the Harbor reopened just weeks after Katrina using a temporary office and boaters avoiding damaged areas. (For more information about harbor repairs see Sept. 2007 section below.)

Repair work begins on Sheriff’s Department- June 2007

Contractors began $2,600,000 worth of repair work on the Sheriff Department’s main offices in Downtown Pascagoula on June 21, 2007. The offices were destroyed by more than four feet of water from Katrina’s storm surge.

The repair work is expected to take six months to complete. The work also includes a major improvement project. The department’s emergency response communication equipment will be elevated and better protected from future storms. Additional temporary power is also being added for this equipment in the event of another large scale power outage. 

County purchases 14 Katrina flooded homes- July 2007

Using FEMA’s Hazardous Mitigation Funds, the Board of Supervisors purchased an additional 14 houses severely flooded during Hurricane Katrina in July 2007. Each of these houses has a long history of flooding over the last 40 years and will be removed from the property. Demolition work is scheduled to start on Aug. 29, 2007.

The “buyout” program is a volunteer assistance option offered to home owners wishing to move out of repetitive flood zones. Homeowners are offered the pre-storm value of their home. Once the home is removed, the property is restored to its natural condition. The Planning Department has already received more than 100 applications from homeowners to take part in the buyout program.   

County completing plans for new Health Department- Aug. 21, 2007

The County was notified this week it would received a $3,977,000 federal block grant from Department of Housing and Urban Development to build a new Health Department Office in Pascagoula.  Hurricane Katrina severely damaged the original office on Hospital Street and made the building unusable.

Plans call for the new Health Dept. office to be built across the street from the County’s Fairgrounds and lay adjacent to Singing River Hospital in Pascagoula. The County has hired an architectural firm to design the new office. Detailed plans of the building will be available by the end of the year.

Ocean Springs Harbor to begin major Katrina repair- Sept./Oct. 2007

Along with dumping debris and silts, Katrina’s storm surge also heavily damaged several spots inside the Ocean Springs Harbor including a large section of the harbor’s back pier, more than 25 finger boat piers, almost 100 pilings and a section of the bulk head.

The County expects to receive construction bids for the repair work by Sept./Oct. 2007. FEMA relief funds will reimburse the County for the repairs. Despite the damage, the Harbor reopened just weeks after Katrina using a temporary office and boaters avoiding damaged areas.

County to dredge 100,000 CY of Katrina silt- Fall 2007

Hurricane Katrina’s storm surge dumped an estimated 100,000 cubic yards of silt in six of the County’s most traveled and used bayous- Graveline, Chicot, Fort Bayou, St. Martin, Morton, Ocean Springs Harbor.

To restore these bayous and their navigable waterways, the County plans to begin a major dredging project. Three of the bayous have already been approved for dredging. The last three are nearing the end of the approval process with the Army Corps of Engineers. Once final approval is received, the County will begin the bidding process. The County will be reimbursed for the dredging work with FEMA public assist funds.

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