The Sun Herald
GULFPORT, Miss. (AP) _ From Bay St. Louis to Pascagoula, nearly every city in South Mississippi has its own harbor. Some are prospering, some are expanding and some are struggling to stay afloat.

A harbor in the Bay of St. Louis gets water enthusiasts very close to downtown. In Pass Christian, recreational boaters and commercial oystermen will each get new space when the harbor opens soon.

In Long Beach, the harbor attracts pleasure seekers who can enjoy dining close by. Gulfport’s harbor is bigger than it was before Hurricane Katrina hit in 2005, and completes Gulfport’s front yard, Jones Park.

Biloxi has four harbors, split between commercial and recreational use, and the Ocean Springs Harbor has a waiting list.

In D’Iberville, a city planner is fighting for a grant to expand the harbor to help revitalize the downtown.

Secretary of State Delbert Hosemann, who is responsible for disbursing Tidelands money that grants cities rent-exempt leases for building harbors, said the coast’s harbors help drive its economy.

“The culture on the coast is defined by its people, its religion and its waters. Harbors are a part of that,” he said.

Hosemann said Tidelands funding has gone to harbors in Bay St. Louis, Pass Christian, Gulfport, Biloxi and Jackson County.

He said most harbors in South Mississippi are seeing 60 to 70 percent occupancy in slip rentals.

“The ones that I was talking to in the last month are about full,” he said.

And the numbers don’t lie.

Fifty-five percent of long-term rental slips are leased at the Bay St. Louis Municipal Harbor, said Lee Seal, harbor commission chairman.

Pass Mayor Chipper McDermott said all 45 recreational slips at the as-yet-unopened harbor are leased. Commercial leases that appeal to oystermen and other seafood-industry workers are filling up fast, he said.

The Long Beach Harbor is at 67 percent capacity, said Mayor Billy Skellie, and the average vessel size there is 34 feet.

The commercial harbor in Biloxi’s Small Craft Harbor and the Serman V. Cannan Back Bay Fishing Dock harbor are full. Biloxi Port Manager Larry Sadlich said the recreational harbor in the Biloxi Small Craft Harbor is at about 85 percent.

“We’re hoping to completely fill this one before long,” he said.

If boaters want slips at the Ocean Springs Harbor, they’ll have to get on the list.

“We’ve got quite a long waiting list, from what I understand,” Jackson County Supervisor John McKay said. “As soon as somebody moves out, somebody wants a slip.”

Before Katrina, Point Cadet Marina was 90 percent full. Today, Sadlich said, the harbor is a little more than half full. Most of the Biloxi boats lost to Katrina, were lost from that harbor, Sadlich said.

“The boats left and the people left with them,” he said.

Now, Biloxi is struggling to fill Point Cadet Marina.

Sadlich said the Small Craft Harbor stays pretty full because it’s near casinos and downtown. Point Cadet Marina is behind the Golden Nugget. When it was built in the 1980s, Sadlich said, “nothing was down there, so you could see it.”

Sadlich said another issue with the marina is it was designed for smaller boats.

“There’s just hardly a market for the small boats anymore,” he said. “We probably have 30 smaller slips and 15 or 20 100-foot slips. Those boats you just don’t see anymore.”

When Sadlich was harbor master in 1997, he said there wasn’t an empty 100-foot slip at the marina. Today, not one is leased.

Sadlich said Biloxi is working on getting more slips leased at Point Cadet.

“I’d like to get smaller boats in with a summer-time special,” he said.

Gulfport has the largest recreational harbor in South Mississippi.

What city officials call “the Gulf Coast’s Front Yard” _ Jones Park, the Barksdale Pavilion and Gulfport Harbor _ got a $40 million upgrade that provided a green space, an event venue and a recreational boat launch off U.S. Highway 90 close to downtown.

Harbor Master George Manemann said the harbor, which had about 250 slips before Katrina, now has 319 slips.

But only 141 are leased. Manneman said earlier this summer, about 170 slips were leased.

“In 2004, every harbor was full and everybody was living large,” he said.

He said there were waiting lists along the coast. With that mindset, he said, post-Katrina reconstruction began with the vision of a bigger population and more boats.

“`If we were full before the storm, we’ll surely fill up after the storm,”’ he said planners were thinking.

When the economy fell in 2007, harbors took a hit, he said, because people don’t have the disposable income to spend on boats.

“It hasn’t recovered to the degree where people are comfortable spending that kind of money,” he said.

Jeff Taylor, D’Iberville city planner and grant writer, said his city’s desire for to have its own public marina has been around forever.

The city’s current marina, he said, sits under Interstate 110 and is 150 feet wide and goes 500 feet into the Back Bay. The marina has two boat launches and room to store about 20 boats.

With the Scarlet Pearl going up a half-block west of Central Avenue, Taylor said he envisions expanding the harbor and marina to go from I-110 to Central Avenue.

He said the proposed harbor would have 75 to 100 slips. At least 50 of those would be rented to local recreational boaters.

“We want to put waterfront activity where none exist,” he said. “People do like the waterfront.”

Taylor hopes D’Iberville qualifies to receive BP RESTORE Act funding to finance the project, which is projected to cost $8 million to $10 million.

In order to expand its harbor, it must own the shoreline, Taylor said, because that is what gives the city permission to occupy the water.

Taylor said successful harbors must be strategically located.

“Allowing us to have a marina and harbor project would help revitalize downtown D’Iberville,” he said.


Information from: The Sun Herald,