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Hancock County – The Good, The Bad and The Ugly

Hancock County is now in a transition period.  Some things have gone well, but others have gone horribly wrong. What does that mean to its residents? More aggravation, frustration and staring down some tough decisions.

By Mark Proulx - Special to GCN   Filed 11/7/06

The Good

A benefit dinner was held on Saturday, October 28th at the Hollywood Casino in Bay St. Louis.  It was called “Hooray for the Bay” and was sponsored by Our Lady’s Academy school to raise money for rebuilding.  I can’t say how much money was raised, but the dinner was a veritable Who’s Who of Hancock County.  The guest of honor was Kathleen Koch, once a resident of Bay St. Louis and CNN correspondent who has made it a crusade to champion Hancock County, reminding the visual world how bad it is still through her “Saving My Town” series.

Kathleen asked me if I would escort her to the dinner, as her husband had family matters to attend to.  Kathleen and I have a history of growing up when the old Bay St. Louis still stood and I was honored to be there for her.  (Just to confess, as I did at the dinner, I had a crush on Kathie way back when and used to frequent her parent’s ice cream parlor just to see her.)

It was good to see her after all this time, as well as make some new acquaintances,  Sitting next to me was David Treutel, and believe me we got into some good conversations, seeing how he’s been a featured speaker in Washington and around the country speaking about insurance changes that need to happen. To my left was Dave Vincent, from WLOX-TV.  We had quite a lot to talk about when it came to how much the real world was getting outside of the gulf coast regarding how bad it still was.

I realize that on the surface it looks like I’m reporting about a social event only…but consider.

These are the movers and shakers of our society…and even they had issues.  David Treutel has been foaming at the mouth trying to get Congress to understand exactly what the problems are regarding the insurance industry…while still working within the industry.  Dave Vincent, the news director for WLOX has been fighting valiantly to get the word out about the entire Mississippi Gulf Coast on both the air and through the WLOX website. Kathleen has been fighting an uphill battle simply to report on the Mississippi Gulf Coast because her superiors feel its not “newsworthy” anymore. 

The other bankers, lawyers, doctors and businessmen and women are struggling to keep what they have and are using every ounce of their influence to save the Gulf Coast. This dinner, I found, was a wonderful way for the people of influence to finally relax…even for a couple of hours, recharge their batteries and lean on a few shoulders.  Honestly, I have never seen so many business owners and people of influence simply breathe a sign of collective relief and lean on each other…even for one night.

More good news is that there are some wonderfully optimistic people who are rebuilding, but there are so many more that will not return.  Coleman Avenue, the old downtown was totally gone and rebuilding is scheduled, but so far only one building has been rebuilt.  The street is slated for renewal and City Hall has been approved for reconstruction which should begin around the first of the year.  This will give many hope and an incentive to move forward.   The condos at the Beach and Coleman Avenue are being rebuilt.
Highway 90 in Waveland business thoroughfare has seen tremendous rebuilding.  Wal-Mart, K-Mart/Sears, Home Depot, McDonald's, Lowe's, Taco Bell, local restaurants and small businesses are coming back.  New lighting will  line Highway 90.
More good news is that many people who did not have enough insurance to rebuild received grants to help them rebuild and recuperate their losses.  This has helped many families.  There is still a great need for volunteers to help people get back into their homes.  Skilled carpenters, plumbers, electricians, etc. are in big demand these days.  Most people have "mucked out" their homes and are now to the point that building skills are what's needed. 
Each day something new appears or an area gets cleaned and it really boosts us up.  Volunteers from Wayland, Massachusetts; Perryton, Texas; Northbrook, Illinois; Boston, MA; Carlsbad, CA; Lebanon, Indiana; Orange Beach, Florida, Aiken, S.C; Florence, S.C.; Dalton, GA; the Florida League of Cities; Rotary Clubs; northern Mississippi and many other parts of the United States have played a big part in our rebuilding.  They have been unflappable and determined and have given us so much help.  We will be eternally indebted to these kind and generous people who have come and given us material things, monetary support and personal support.  Without the help of faith-based groups such as the Morrell Foundation, Christian
Life Church, City-Team Ministries; Willow Creek Church; and our own local churches and volunteers we would still be digging out.

The Bad

Millions and millions pounds of debris have been cleared by the Army Corps of Engineers and local debris haulers.  FEMA and local governments still work to resolve never before disaster considerations.  Katrina created a whole new set of issues for governments and individuals to contemplate.  And there are more issues cropping up each day.  For instance, where do we put people who would be otherwise homeless that now reside in FEMA trailers?  As areas are cleared, how do we protect ourselves from big developers and large scale developments to our once small town?  Can we protect ourselves?  How does a small town government with small town worries and big town expenses survive?

The Ugly
Today (Tuesday, November 7th) is election day for mayor and aldermen and other officials.  It will be interesting to see the turnout and who wins the election. There are seven candidates for mayor in Waveland, including Mayor Longo the current mayor, and several citizens vying for four aldermen seats.  No one envies the incumbent or new comers to these posts as there can be no doubt…excruciatingly hard decisions await whomever is elected.

I also received this from Kathy Pinn, who had been working as the Donations Coordinator and PR person for the City of Waveland.  If I told you it didn’t hurt to read this, I’d be lying.

“Hi Mark,
I think I'm having a delayed reaction to the storm.  I'm not working for the City anymore.  Doing some volunteering.
The hardest part for me is how long this is going to take. I'm a much better sprinter than marathon runner.  I get very frustrated when things go slowly and they have to go slowly.  So many things to consider.
Personally, my husband and I bought a house north of Waveland in January.  After we moved in leaving trailer life behind things seemed to get to me easier.  I think at first your adrenalin is going and you're worried about others who are worse, and then all of a sudden it dawns on you that everything you owned was lost and it makes you terribly sad.
I have little energy these days.  Also, my memory seems to have suffered  and pulling together names with faces is more difficult.  We have all been through so much.
There's really no one here on a permanent basis who has not gone through the same thing you have and so you just don't talk about it.  There are people who are so much worse off.  Our lives as we knew it was taken from us.  Our friends are gone.  Our daily routine is different.  Everywhere you look there is still destruction south of the railroad tracks in Waveland.
I have taken a vacation from my activities for a while to tend to my health and my husband and family who I have neglected over the last year.  I loved being a part of Waveland's recovery and know that I will continue in some way, but for a while I'm on hiatus.
Love to all who have cared about us and have come to help.  And especially thanks to you, Mark ,for all that you do to let people know that Waveland is still here and will be recuperating for a long time.
Kathy Pinn”


About the author:
Mark Proulx family has deep roots in Bay St. Louis and Hancock County. He currently lives in Deerfield, Florida. He has a communications background in journalism and graduated from USM in 1982 but returned to school later and works now as a bio-engineer.. His father retired from the Air Force and was stationed once at Keesler.

Contact the author: mxpowerdive@hotmail.com

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