Judge clarifies Secretary of State’s power in Veterans pier case

If there was a line that jumped out at Mayor Andrew “FoFo” Gilich in an ongoing Tidelands debate between local governments and the Mississippi Secretary of State, it was this one: “To stagnantly hold tidelands is not always in the public’s best interest, nor is it responsive to the public’s trust.”

The line, quoting from a previous Tidelands case, is included in a May 28 ruling where Harrison County Chancery Court Judge Jennifer Schloegel denied the Secretary of State’s motion to prohibit the city and county from entering into a partnership with a developer to construct a new municipal pier at Veterans Avenue in West Biloxi.

Secretary of State Michael Watson had sued over the city and county’s proposal to lease the property to RW Development for construction of a municipal pier for public use. Watson 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 on the site for years before being destroyed by a hurricane.

Schloegel’s order, which also dissolved an existing temporary restraining order, found the Secretary of State’s position that he had “sole authority” in the matter was not supported by laws that allow the city and county similar powers. She granted the motion by the city and county to file a counterclaim to move forward, which they filed days after the judge’s May 28 ruling.

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.

The city and county in their counterclaim seek approval to move forward with the proposal without a tidelands lease from the State. The city and county counterclaims note that for more than a hundred years, state law has allowed Coast cities and counties to construct numerous piers, wharves, docks and harbors, to promote tourism and economic development, without a lease from the state.

In addition, the counterclaims point out a number of historic waterfront properties that constructed piers without tidelands leases from the State: the Buena Vista, Biloxi, Edgewater and Tivoli hotels among them.
See Judge Schloegel’s ruling
See a rendering of the proposed pier
See the city’s counterclaim
See the county’s counterclaim
Mayor: Piers through the years
Jane Shambra: Biloxi waterfront back in the day