The truth about annexation

Here is the text of a letter that Mayor Holloway and the City Council submitted to the Sun Herald for publication on Wednesday, Jan. 23, 2013, regarding the issue of annexation between Biloxi and Gulfport.

There has been a growing level of public posturing on this annexation issue in recent weeks, but the public would be well served to know the facts.

The annexation battle was initiated by Gulfport in 2009 when it sued Biloxi and claimed it was entitled to annex property that is physically attached to Biloxi and is located about 2 ½ miles east of the Biloxi River. For more than two decades each city has been growing to the north/northwest and each has recognized, on their official minutes, that the River is their boundary line.

Gulfport’s obvious purpose is to block Biloxi’s north/northwest path of growth and, if successful, Biloxi would be landlocked within the next 10 to 15 years. The attached map shows the large area (in green) sitting on top of Biloxi that Gulfport continues to claim.

Despite self-serving statements made by various Gulfport officials, the truth is that on three occasions Biloxi has offered to stand down, compromise and reduce the cost of these battles, but Gulfport has said no each time. For instance, in 2010, while both cities had cases pending over much of the same land, Biloxi and Harrison County proposed that the two cases be tried together in order to cut in half the litigation expenses. Gulfport said no, insisting on trying its case which it expected to win. Again, several months before the Gulfport trial, Harrison County and Biloxi proposed a mutual stand down of all litigation and Gulfport once again refused, insisting on trying its case which began in February 2011.

Gulfport lost and only after it lost, did Gulfport finally suggest that there be a stand down.

In spite of Gulfport’s actions, the Biloxi City Council has announced its willingness to compromise, on two very simple and reasonable conditions:

1. That each city resolve for a period of fifteen years not to attempt to annex property across the river. In a recent meeting, Gulfport suggested that for 10 years each city agree not to impose on the other by attempting to cross the river. Although Biloxi would like a longer stand down period, for the sake of compromise, we would probably accept the 10 years (recall that Gulfport’s initial reaction to Biloxi’s proposal was that it could not/would not agree to a stand down for longer than 6 months). While it may not be 100 percent binding on future Councils, it will publicly state the desires of both cities and it will be a strong statement of both cities’ policies and future plans.

2. That Gulfport withdraw its objection to Biloxi annexing property owned by a single landowner who wants his property in Biloxi. This land is located two to three miles east of the river, and is nowhere near Gulfport’s path of growth. In return Biloxi would withdraw all other land from the case.

The large area on the eastern edge of the map is owned by a property owner (Pitcher Point) who wishes to be included in Biloxi. This property is located several miles from the River and does not block Gulfport’s growth.

Unfortunately, as late as last week, Gulfport announced that it will NEVER give up its fight to annex the land over Biloxi’s north/northwest border and it would pursue the land again when it is financially stronger. Therefore, Gulfport says, it will not accept Biloxi’s compromise and is willing to spend more tax dollars opposing what would be a truly friendly annexation of a single property owner that wants to develop its land in Biloxi.

If Gulfport and the County would agree to this simple proposal, Biloxi would withdraw all other property from this case so that not a single resident of Harrison County would be annexed into Biloxi other than the property owner who wishes to be.

Gulfport’s leaders should rethink their position.

Mayor A.J. Holloway

and the Biloxi City Council

Ward 1, George Lawrence

Ward 2, William “Bill” Stallworth

Ward 3, Lucy Denton

Ward 4, Clark Griffith

Ward 5, Arlene Wall

Ward 6, Edward E. “Ed” Gemmill

Ward 7, David Fayard