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Aug. 29, 2011

GOV. BARBOUR OFFERS RECOVERY UPDATE ON SIXTH ANNIVERSARY OF HURRICANE KATRINA

Gov. Haley Barbour today provided an update on the recovery of the Mississippi Gulf Coast six years after Hurricane Katrina devastated the coastline and damaged much of the southern part of the state.

Efforts to rebuild housing, public infrastructure and the Gulf Coast economy have met significant milestones in the past year. Work continues on home repair programs, emergency communications systems upgrades and restoring the Port of Gulfport.

The state's housing programs have replaced tens of thousands of damaged homes with new, affordable residences. There are now only 12 temporarily occupied FEMA travel trailers and mobile homes, compared with more than 45,000 such units that were occupied in the months after the storm.

"Six years ago today, the Mississippi Gulf Coast was knocked down flat by Hurricane Katrina, the worst natural disaster in American history," Gov. Barbour said. "Mississippians offered a helping hand to their neighbors and quickly got to work rebuilding communities along the Gulf Coast and across South Mississippi. Much progress has been made in building the coast back bigger and better than before."

Gov. Barbour stressed the anniversary should remind citizens to always be prepared during hurricane season.

"Our motto is: Pray for the best, but prepare for the worst," Gov. Barbour said. "We are in the middle of another hurricane season, and the time for preparedness is now. 

"Have enough food and water for at least 72 hours," he said. "After Katrina, responders could not reach some families for days because fallen trees and debris closed roads. Have a radio that runs on batteries, preferably a weather radio, so you can receive needed information. Have an evacuation route and a destination. Know where you're going and how you're going to get there."

One lesson from Katrina state officials are implementing is an expanded interoperable communications system to share large voice and data files in real time. Work will begin soon on the nation’s first statewide broadband Long-Term Evolution network for public safety agencies. The state has contracted with Motorola Solutions, Inc. (NYSE: MSI) for $56 million to create the network, which will provide high-speed broadband interoperability among city, county and state emergency responders.

The funds will upgrade the current Mississippi Wireless Information Network, which allows public safety agencies statewide to contact each other through radio systems clearly and quickly. The grant will enable first responders to transmit video and other data quickly. The program will serve 90 hospitals, 340 ambulances and up to 9,900 public safety workers in Mississippi.

"After Katrina, our first responders excelled in a time of difficulty, but they are even better prepared today thanks to the lessons we've learned," Gov. Barbour said. "Today, Mississippi's emergency workers can communicate seamlessly through an interoperable network connecting local police and fire crews with state and federal emergency managers. We've honed our training techniques for first responders and our response plans."

Progress continues on homeowner assistance programs across South Mississippi. Construction will begin within weeks on houses in the Neighborhood Home Program, an initiative created in November 2010 to help homeowners who were not eligible for previous assistance programs.

The Neighborhood Home Program will repair houses of homeowners, who are very poor, elderly or disabled and could not secure assistance through other public or private means. Up to $75,000 in home repairs will be provided to eligible applicants in Hancock, Harrison, Jackson, Pearl River, Stone, George, Forrest, Lamar and Jones Counties in southern Mississippi.

So far, the Mississippi Development Authority has approved 300 applications. A total of 3,600 homeowners are expected to qualify. As applicants are determined eligible, home repair or reconstruction will be performed by local contractors, followed by a thorough MDA inspection to ensure the quality of construction.

The Neighborhood Home Program also is contributing funding to the elevation and permanent placement of Mississippi Cottages. The Mississippi Cottage program, formally known as the Mississippi Alternative Housing Program, has provided 1,900 households with affordable and safe permanent residences.

Other programs continue to provide affordable options for low-income families:

  • The Homeowners Assistance Program has awarded more than $2 billion in rebuilding grants to nearly 28,000 homeowners, more than 40 percent of whom are in low-income households. 
  • The Small Rental Assistance Program has resulted in more than 3,200 units constructed and is helping local "mom-and-pop" property owners repair rental properties to restore traditional neighborhoods devastated by Katrina. MDA expects more than 4,000 units will be available within another year.
  • The Public Housing Program will increase the public housing stock to a total of 3,100 units from fewer than 2,000 before Katrina. These new public housing units are much stronger, more attractive and complimentary to the community and residents than previous units.
  • The Long-Term Workforce Housing Program has resulted in more than 1,700 units constructed or financed.  Workforce housing is putting units where people need them – near jobs, schools, transportation and other vital community needs. The program also has provided unique homebuyer financing through Renaissance Corporation, City of Gulfport and others.

These housing programs combined with other housing initiatives will result in more than 50,000 housing units in South Mississippi.

Bringing jobs back to the Coast has also been a major focus of Governor Barbour’s recovery plan.

Restoration of the state Port of Gulfport continued with U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development’s release of the remainder of the $570 million in federal Community Development Block Grants allocated to the restoration.   

The Port’s 60-acre West Pier fill project was successfully completed earlier this year with more than 1.9 million cubic yards of sand deposited.  The Port expects to continue construction with the release of three contracts for dredging and fill projects before the end of 2011.

The restoration program is important to rebuild the region’s job base and to fill the national need for more container port capacity. Restoration will help ensure the Port can service increased traffic resulting from expansion of the Panama Canal. Thousands of jobs are directly or indirectly related to State Port activity, and the Port is expected not only to boost the Coast economy but also to help create jobs statewide.

In addition to the Port, the Economic Development Program is expected to create 6,412 jobs by funding public infrastructure improvements or eligible job training activities to benefit private businesses. Forty-eight economic development projects have been awarded in 25 Mississippi counties. Twenty-eight of these are complete, with nine more expected to finish by the end of 2011, and the remainder will be 90 percent completed by the end of 2012. To date, almost $126 million in CDBG funds has been invested.

Public infrastructure also has been restored over the last year, as coastal communities have celebrated the completion of several new public building and improvement projects in the past 12 months, including:

  • Bay St. Louis Valena C. Jones School
  • Bay St. Louis Community Center
  • Bay St. Louis Fire Station
  • Biloxi Civic Center and Library
  • Biloxi Courthouse Annex
  • Biloxi Lighthouse Park and Visitors Center
  • Coast Transit Agency Bus Stops
  • D’Iberville Historic Town Green
  • D’Iberville Waterfront Overlook
  • Gulf Coast Mental Health Crossroads Recovery Center
  • Gulfport Public Safety Complex
  • Gulfport Small Craft Harbor and Jones Park
  • Gulfport Downtown Building Improvements
  • Hancock County Circuit Clerk and Chancery Clerk Office
  • Jackson County Health Department
  • Jackson County Ocean Springs Harbor House
  • Long Beach City Hall
  • Long Beach Downtown Renovation/Streetscape
  • Long Beach Fire Station #2
  • Moss Point Main Street Reconstruction
  • Moss Point Riverwalk North
  • Ocean Springs Sidewalk Infrastructure – Front Beach
  • Old Brick House (Biloxi)
  • Pascagoula Streetscape on Jackson Avenue and Delmas Avenue
  • Pascagoula Live Oak Avenue Redevelopment and Senior Center
  • Pass Christian Historical Society
  • Waveland Library
  • Waveland Rebuild Coleman Avenue

Several of the last remaining public infrastructure projects began construction in the past year, including:

  • Biloxi Infrastructure repair program
  • Gulfport Harbor Services Building
  • Hancock County Health and Human Services Building
  • Hancock County East Library
  • Hancock County Longfellow Civic Center
  • Hancock County Storm Preparedness Facility
  • Hancock County Bayou Phillips Community Center
  • Hancock Medical Center
  • Santa Maria del Mar housing complex