Court gives green light to Veterans Avenue pier

A rendering of the proposed public pier at Veterans Avenue. (Courtesy of RW Development.)

A second court has rebuffed the position of Mississippi Secretary State Michael Watson, who had sued Biloxi and Harrison County over plans to construct a handicapped accessible public pier in West Biloxi.

Harrison County Chancery Court Judge Jennifer Schloegel, in a ruling filed Monday, said the city and county are within their rights to construct a public pier at Veterans Avenue without a tidelands lease from the Secretary of State. Another judge in another court came to a similar conclusion months ago in a case involving a proposed lease at the Long Beach harbor.

“This is outstanding news for Biloxi and all the cities and counties along the Mississippi Gulf Coast,” Mayor Andrew “FoFo” Gilich said. “This is about public access and enjoyment of the waterfront, and the cities and counties have been building piers, harbors and other amenities on the waterfront for more than a hundred years. And now that two courts have confirmed that this is legal, we hope that the Secretary of State does not spend thousands of more tidelands dollars to stand in the way of progress.”

Watson had sued over a plan by Biloxi and Harrison County to lease property at Veterans Avenue to RW Development for construction of a municipal pier for public use. Watson, in his lawsuit, claimed a tidelands lease was required for the pier, and he also asserted that he is in charge of the sand beach, not the Harrison County Board of Supervisors. A public pier had been at the Veterans Avenue site for years before being destroyed by a hurricane.

Wrote Schloegel in her 19-page ruling:

“The Court further finds that municipal piers and harbors have been constructed within the City for many decades without the requirement of a tidelands lease from the Secretary. Pursuant to specific statutory grants, cited herein, of the right to reclaim and use Tidelands, these piers and harbors have been constructed in furtherance of the higher public purposes of the Public Trust for Tidelands. The State has acquiesced for many decades in the use of these Tidelands for these higher public purposes without having or requiring a tidelands lease from the Secretary, and, accordingly, the State is estopped from asserting that a tidelands lease is now necessary to act in furtherance of the higher public purposes of the Trust.”

The pier, which would be more than 300 feet long and made of concrete, would be handicapped accessible and would stand about 20 feet above the water. It would be AT the center OF the popular West Biloxi Boardwalk, a two-mile walkway that runs from Rodenberg Avenue to Camellia.

RW Development, which owns a host of visitor-oriented attractions on its land at Veterans and U.S. 90, now plans to finalize the detailed design of the pier, create construction documents and begin the permitting process with the Mississippi Department of Marine Resources. Under the terms of the lease RW has with the city and county, the company would be responsible for constructing and maintaining the public pier.

Said Gilich: “We knew what we were doing was within our rights, and now it’s time to move forward.”
See Judge Schloegel’s detailed ruling
See rendering of the handicapped-accessible pier
Video: The pier story, A to Z, Sept. 24
Mayor: Piers through the years
Jane Shambra: Biloxi waterfront back in the day