Biloxi has a vision for the future and Tidelands funds

The following is a guest editorial published by The Sun Herald in Dec. 26, 2015.

By Andrew “FoFo” Gilich

I was only a few days into office back in May when I met with our Secretary of State, Delbert Hosemann, who manages the Tidelands Trust Fund. That’s the fund that generates millions of dollars each year from the rent that some waterfront businesses pay the state for the use of submerged bottomlands, or tidelands.


See Biloxi’s tidelands requests at

Secretary Hosemann told me something that I already knew: Biloxi, with its array of waterfront casino resorts, generates an overwhelming portion of the money in the Tidelands fund each year, and, as a result, Biloxi has a strong case for seeing more Tidelands projects in Biloxi.

I didn’t have to hear that twice.

By July, six weeks after meeting with Secretary Hosemann, the city had submitted its Tidelands applications for the pending Legislative session, which begins in January, and just last week we reviewed the applications during a City Council meeting. I’m sure some of the numbers in our report raised an eyebrow or two.

First, we’re asking for an unprecedented amount of funding for waterfront projects, $14.75 million. Second, we’re pointing out that Biloxi generated $6.96 million in Tidelands funds last fiscal year – 84 percent of the overall Tidelands budget – and at the same time we saw only $696,000, or about 7 percent of the money awarded, returned to Biloxi.

The City Council and I agree with the Secretary of State. We think there’s a glaring disparity in the State’s annual award of funds, and we’re asking the Legislature to take a fresh look at how projects are funded.

More than that, we’ve assembled a host of strategic waterfront projects that will revitalize areas of our city, create jobs and improve access and engagement.  We think all applications for use of Tidelands funds should be based on strategic investments in projects that will not only protect the environment but will stimulate jobs and economic development in tourism, seafood, and other water-dependent industries. We invite our Legislators to consider establishing this strategic criteria for all applications.

We’re looking to create a waterfront festival marketplace along Back Bay. We envision a new commercial harbor on Back Bay and expanded marinas at Point Cadet and the Biloxi Small Craft Harbor. Boardwalks will improve access on Point Cadet, on Back Bay and on west beach. We want to bring connectivity to key points along our waterfront, connect existing businesses and improving access for visitors, locals and fishermen alike to recreate a waterfront where all will enjoy an authentic Biloxi experience, steeped in history, embracing the future.

We appreciate the fact that a rating panel from the Mississippi Department of Marine Resources and Secretary of State’s office has rated two of our eight projects in the Top 10 of all 58 pending applications, and six of our eight projects are rated in the Top 20.

Moreover, we believe that there’s an opportunity to begin using Tidelands funds for strategic investments, those projects that will generate economic development along the waterfront as well as waterfront engagement. We believe that this will provide a greater return on the Tidelands funds, and help realize the goals of the program.

Looking at the Tidelands awards for fiscal year 2015, you’ll quickly notice that nearly half of the revenue — $4.5 million, or 46 percent – flows to the Department of Marine Resources.

We believe that the DMR should be funded through the state general fund, just as all other state agencies are funded.  The DMR is a vital agency that is back on track, protecting and managing our state’s Marine Resources with outstanding work under Executive Director Jamie Miller and deserves the same support from the state general fund as all other agencies.

Biloxi is a team player. We often serve a leadership role on the Mississippi Coast, but we also support and appreciate the contributions and needs of our sister cities. We aren’t saying that every penny collected from Biloxi should be returned. We are saying that we need a more proportionate share of the Tidelands monies generated inside our city limits.

We are not alone in that belief. The Secretary of State agrees with our position.

Our suggestion is simple: rework the Tidelands formula to dedicate a minimum, proportionate percentage be returned to Biloxi each year for specific, strategic projects that adhere to the fund’s original intent; and require that projects proposed in other locations meet the same standards.

The Tidelands fund has helped fund piers and boat launches and other waterfront public access endeavors from Waveland to Moss Point. No doubt, the Tidelands trust fund has funded a lot of good ideas.

With our applications this year, we’re looking to fund great ideas, to make strategic, economic-development investments along our waterfront and all Coast waterfronts, to enhance our designation as a destination resort and premier provider of seafood.

The bottom line is this: Our ask for these Tidelands investments will result in more dollars to Mississippi coffers.