The Mississippi Gulf Coast will receive more than $9 million dollars this year from the lease of its tidelands. MPB’s Evelina Burnett reports.
Secretary Delbert Hosemann presented a check for $9.57 million dollars to coast legislators and the Department of Marine Resources yesterday. Tidelands funds come from lease money paid by coastal casinos.
"Last year it was $9.7 million, this year it was $9.5 million, so it's been very consistent, very high dollars," Hosemann says.
Tidelands funds are down about 2 percent from last year, but the total collected has almost tripled in the past seven years, from about $3.3 million in 2007.
"The gaming here on the coast continues to prosper," Hosemann says. "We've had, I think, one failure here, but also huge investments here, like Golden Nugget spent over $50 million improving their property at Point Cadet, the public property next to it."
Tidelands funds are intended to improve marine resources management and public access to the gulf. House marine resources chair Rep. Casey Eure of Biloxi says one major public access project is a new pier coming to Deer Island.
"We want people to enjoy their island, the state owns it now – it’s theirs," he says. "It's not every day people get to go and enjoy an island, pick up shells, see the wildflife. We just want to encourage people to use it."
Eure says in the future they hope to look at adding a ferry service to Deer Island.
Department of Marine Resources executive director Jamie Miller says this money plays a significant role in the operation of his agency.
"It's the largest annual state source of revenue for marine resources that we receive," Miller says. "We manage a grant program, it funds some of our programs, and also public - city, county - access projects."
In the most recent legislative session, tidelands funds were allocated for an array of “public access” projects, including a boat launch in west Biloxi; fishing dock dredging and lighthouse parking and pier improvements, also in Biloxi; harbor improvements in Pass Christian and Long Beach; and repairs and improvements to James Hill Park Bayou in Gulfport.
Gulfport mayor Billy Hewes says projects like these make a huge difference to his marine city.
"We’re a tourist-driven economy," Hewes says. "People come down here because of our amenities, because of our natural resources, and any time we can provide more access to the public to these resources, it just makes the appeal that much greater."