Holloway Addresses Gulfport Kiwanians on Keesler

Here is the prepared text of a speech Mayor A.J. Holloway gave to the Gulfport Kiwanis club on Wednesday, Nov. 27, 2002, at the Holiday Inn Beachfront in Gulfport.

Good afternoon. I’m glad that you invited me to speak to you today, and I’m happy to see such a good turnout.

I was over here in June to speak to the Rotary at the Great Southern Club, and you may remember that we ruffled a few feathers. We raised the issue of whether cities like Biloxi and Gulfport were getting a fair return on the county tax dollars paid by city residents. That issue needed some discussion and it still bears watching. I’ll try not to ruffle any feathers today, but I still have a few things I’d like to say to you.

Today, I’m going to spend a few minutes speaking about a few issues that have been in the news, and I’ll spend some time answering any questions you might have about issues either in Biloxi or along the Coast.

I’m sure most of you saw the big headline in the paper last week. The headline said that the Biloxi Planning Commission gave the OK for two 13-story condos to be built in the path of the main runway at Keesler Air Force Base.

First, let me say that yes, the Planning Commission recommended approval for the development. No, the development is NOT in the direct path of the runway at Keesler.
In fact, Keesler AND the FAA said at that very hearing that this development does not pose a threat to aviation. I should also point out that we have a retired general from Keesler on the Planning Commission, and we have a Keesler liaison who sits on the Planning Commission.

This case brings up an important issue — height and how it impacts Keesler. And, I might remind you, that this is not just a Biloxi issue.
A number of people from Gulfport and from all over south Mississippi work at Keesler, and we have an airport over here, too.

Let me say something that I’ve said before, so we’re all clear on this: A.J. Holloway knows the importance of Keesler Air Force Base to Biloxi and south Mississippi. We are not going to permit anything that will jeopardize the missions of Keesler.Having said that, that does not mean we are NOT going to have any development in the City of Biloxi.

What we have been doing and what we are continuing to do is to work with Keesler and the FAA to make sure that any proposed development does not have a detrimental impact on the base’s flying operations.
When developers approach our Planning Department with a proposal, we send them to Keesler first. They must get that OK before we even talk to them.

For some time, we have been working on implementing a land-use plan that sets out what can be built and where it can be built as it pertains to Keesler. It is similar to the one Gulfport adopted for the airport.
Some may wonder why this is such a tough issue. It would seem like you can just draw a line around Keesler and say nothing can be built above two stories in this area.

While that sounds simple, it raises a number of issues. One of those issues is the rights of individual property owners.
Some could try to make the case that you are taking air rights away from property owners Ç and they’ll want to be compensated, which could lead to years of expensive court challenges.

Instead, what we are doing in Biloxi is adopting the national FAA guidelines regarding the heights of buildings near airports. The FAA regulations govern both civilian airports, like Gulfport-Biloxi International, and military installations like the Air National Guard and Keesler.
By adopting those federal regulations, we won’t have the issue of individual property owners. It’s a citywide plan and does not focus on a certain area.

Some of you might think that the reason it’s so controversial in Biloxi is because people over there are hotheads and like to argue.
That might be the case sometimes, but the real reason it’s so controversial in Biloxi is because of our geography.

Keesler Air Force Base accounts for a large chunk of the 13 square miles of the Biloxi peninsula. The north end of Keesler’s runway is right at the Bay of Biloxi. The south end of the runway stops at the CSX railroad, but the approach to the runway is over the Gulf of Mexico and over privately held waterfront property.

We have a great relationship with Keesler, and we continue to have a great relationship with the commanders of the base. In fact, right now the commander is General Michael Peterson, who is the first Biloxi native to serve as head of the base.
I think what people need to understand is that every development in Biloxi is NOT a threat to Keesler. Economic development and Keesler can co-exist.

I wanted to make sure that you knew the background on that issue. It’s very important that our citizens understand, particularly in light of the base closings that we have seen in years past.
Another round will be coming up in a few years, and it’s important that people know we ARE doing the right things here on the Mississippi Gulf Coast, and our bases DO have the respect of the local community.

On the subject of economic development, let me speak to a couple of other issues.
We were able to work out an important agreement between Biloxi and Gulfport the other day that will help both cities.

Right now, the wastewater treatment plant in West Biloxi treats a good bit of wastewater from Gulfport. That’s right, from Courthouse Road east, when you flush your toilet, it comes out in Biloxi. Some of y’all might not see a problem with that.

The west Biloxi plant is just about at capacity. That huge Legacy development near DeBuys Road and the Landing, a 350-unit apartment development in west Biloxi, are probably the last big developments that the west Biloxi plant can handle. That means you’re in trouble as far as future economic development in east Gulfport and west Biloxi.

What we have done is work out an arrangement where we’re essentially buying Gulfport out of the west Biloxi plant.
Right now, you’re paying on a $7 million note to use that west Biloxi plant. You’ll be able to use that money to construct a line from east Gulfport to your plant in north Gulfport, which is a modern plant with plenty of capacity, and you’ll be in a position to handle future growth.

That story didn’t get a lot of news coverage, but I think it’s an example of Biloxi and Gulfport working together to the benefit of all. Plus, when this deal is completed, we won’t have you pumping stuff our way anymore.

One of the big projects that we have working in Biloxi right now is one that generated a lot of headlines when we first proposed it. That’s construction management.

You haven’t heard a lot about it because, I’m happy to tell you, it’s working. We have a company that’s overseeing about $35 million in construction on Popp’s Ferry, Bayview and in the next few months, Caillavet Street.

Moving traffic, as you know, is a big concern on the Gulf Coast, and it’s even more of a challenge in Biloxi, where we’re bounded by water on three sides.

To get these projects started and to keep them on track, we came up with the concept of construction management.

We needed day-to-day expertise to oversee the contractors and subcontractors on these jobs Ç and we needed these projects on time and on budget. By hiring a firm to oversee this, we get that expertise, and we can cut the cord when the projects are complete.

Each of these things I have spoken about today is different. We talked about heights of buildings, wastewater treatment and road construction. But they all have one thing in common Ç they deal with economic development and the growth and quality of life of our communities.

Sometimes there are no easy answers to big problems, but I feel like we’re doing the right thing in each of these cases, and we are making good progress.

I want to thank you again for inviting me over here. I hope I’ve been able to give you a good status report. I’d also like to take this opportunity to wish each of you a safe and happy Thanksgiving and holiday season.