Gulf Coast Watch
The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) announced Feb. 29 it has expanded its effort to identify and evaluate alternatives to FEMA trailers and mobile homes for housing people in the aftermath of a disaster. The project is being conducted by the Joint Housing Solutions Group (JHSG), which was established in June 2006 by the agency's Disaster Assistance Directorate.
"Among the lessons learned from Katrina and Rita are those that taught us that we need to be better prepared to house large numbers of individuals and families safely, securely and quickly after catastrophic disasters like the 2005 hurricanes," said Carlos J. Castillo, assistant administrator for disaster assistance. "Our goal is to identify and be able to deliver such housing in the future."
Field teams composed of FEMA, HUD, NIBS and other specialists have been conducting site visits to evaluate models and prototypes for further consideration. To date, they have evaluated 40 different types of units located across the country. They have looked at modular "folding houses" that could transition to permanent housing, a steel modular modernist-design unit already in use in some areas, and housing units that basically are converted shipping containers. Costs range from $15,000 to $150,000, with most falling between $20,000 and $50,000.
The group also will evaluate Gulf Coast-type cottages with front porches and other types of housing developed through the Alternative Housing Pilot Program (AHPP) for Katrina/Rita households. The inclusion of the AHPP units in the JHSG evaluation process will provide a unique opportunity to assess occupied homes under actual living conditions.
Mississippi Sun Herald, March 6, 2008 -- The state Department of Transportation's restoration of U.S. 90 should be finished before the year is out, which is good news for frustrated motorists but not-so-good news for some Coast cities.
Kris Riemann, Gulfport's public works director, said the road is scheduled to be complete before the city is expected to bring its far-reaching water and sewerage overhaul to U.S. 90. In this case, a failure to communicate -- between the city and MDOT -- could mean the city will have to dig up the state's expensive pavement and sidewalks. "MDOT has not flexed on their timeline for completion," Riemann said. "Unless they're willing to budge, there's a good chance that they could finish before we get the water and sewerage down."
MDOT, bound by federal highway guidelines, is requiring all utilities along U.S. 90 to be relocated outside of the travel lines, which is a must if federal money is used to rebuild the road. The standard means if a utility line was running down the median before Hurricane Katrina, it now must be relocated.
Gulfport, Biloxi and other cities are using FEMA money to relocate their utilities under the northern sidewalks and edges of U.S. 90. Riemann said the cost to dig up and replace a finished MDOT restoration of U.S. 90 in Gulfport could be nearly $7 million. "We expect that if something is not coordinated between the city and MDOT before the end of the year, the whole thing will be very expensive and the taxpayers would be paying twice for improvements," he said.
Wayne Brown, MDOT's Southern District chief, said the state is working with FEMA on a plan to leave out sidewalks in sections where a timing conflict exists.
Mississippi Sun Herald, Feb. 27, 2008 -- Biloxi may be next on the list of cities that have benefited from the planning of Wallace Roberts & Todd. Community Development Director Jerry Creel says he considers them to be "the lowest and best bid," to develop a comprehensive plan for the city's future. Headquartered in Philadelphia, Pa., the company has extensive experience in coastal-community planning.
"I'm glad to get it going," said Mayor A.J. Holloway. Work on the comprehensive plan had to be rebid when representatives of Wallace Roberts & Todd determined they couldn't provide the detailed scope of work the city wants for the amount specified in the original bid.
The contract will provide for the company to hold a series of public meetings to get resident input. Besides writing the comprehensive plan, it will make revisions to the Land Development Ordinance and write architectural-design standards and subdivision regulations.
The city's last comprehensive plan -- Vision 2020 -- was adopted in 1996. It was intended to be a blueprint for the city for 25 years, but Creel said Katrina made many of the provisions of that draft obsolete. The new plan will be paid for with a Mississippi Development Authority grant.
WLOX, April 14, 2008 -- A resolution to allow for permanent Katrina cottages is being introduced by Ward 2 Councilman Bill Stallworth. Stallworth says if the resolution passes, the cottages would still have to live up to city codes.
"There will be several requirements that are already in place. One is the elevation that determines whether they are in flood zones. Secondly, they were built as kind of modular homes, so we've already experienced how they were built and we provide that, so we can assure that they're up to code. Thirdly, [they need to] meet the zoning and family size," Stallworth said.
Stallworth believes allowing the cottages to become permanent housing will help solve the city's housing woes, improve the quality life for its residents, and aid in the overall recovery of the city of Biloxi.
Mississippi Sun Herald, March 6, 2008 -- Mayor Brent Warr and his administration officials have highlighted some of their achievements for the year.
Larry Jones, director of the Department of Urban Development, said the city has adopted SmartCode as a mandatory replacement to traditional zoning laws in four communities.
Economic Development Director Sue Wright said designs created by internationally known planner Andrés Duany have received attention from developers.
Lisa Bradley, the executive director of Gulfport's Main Street Association, said the city is planning to start construction on the first downtown facade next month.
The city's facade-grant program is using $4.4 million in state money to overhaul the front of privately owned buildings downtown. In addition, the Mississippi Department of Transportation has given a preliminary approval for a $7 million restoration of 25th Avenue, expected to begin in January.
Harbor Master D.J. Ziegler said the city hopes to begin a $25 million reconstruction of the harbor this summer.
Leisure Services Director Edmond Salloum said his department recently completed a $1.4 million restoration of municipal piers and hopes to complete construction of three community centers by November and another four by May 2009.
Municipal Court Director Odell Thompson said Fred Lederer, a leading law professor who designed the court at Guantanamo Bay in Cuba, has helped design a 57,000-square-foot police and court facility for downtown.
Police Chief Alan Weatherford said the city's murder rate dropped 66 percent last year, and Sullivan said the department expects construction work on nine of the city's 12 firehouses to be complete by June.
Katrina damaged or destroyed nearly 150 city-owned facilities. Mike Necaise, the city's finance chief, said 42 have been repaired, 67 are under construction and 40 are in the planning stage.
Long Beach Planning Commissioner Jacquie Lipski reports:
"We are progressing with our Senior Center/Recreation Complex, laying the groundwork to create a hiking trail along our city's northern canal, and awaiting to see the results of the facelift to our city's main street, Jeff Davis Avenue including new sidewalks, lighting, parking and landscaping.
"The city is still meeting and collaborating with our hired city planners, Ayers/Saint/Gross, to create new zoning ordinances, architectural guidelines and subdivision standards for Long Beach. The city is currently moving ahead with implementing SmartCode through development of the transects.
"There is great concern about how our SmartCode will affect the city, both positively and negatively. The city has officially adopted SmartCode; however, we are still functioning under traditional zoning because SmartCode has not yet been calibrated for Long Beach.
"Even though much work remains to be done in developing the city's comprehensive plan, we can celebrate the ground breaking of our new yacht club, and the new Long Beach police station is now open and servicing our community."
In February, the city of Ocean Springs mailed more than 8,000 voluntary insurance surveys to local residents to gain insight into how the cost of homeowners and business insurance and the FEMA grant programs have affected citizens and area recovery following Hurricane Katrina.
The city's insurance survey is in support of Congressman Gene Taylor's National All Perils Insurance Bill.
"Currently, the U.S. Senate is considering a National All Perils Insurance Bill that could conceivably allow relief for wind and other insurance in the event of a catastrophe. It is similar to the National Flood Insurance Program," said Mayor Connie Moran. "If passed, this could reduce the level of premiums for home and business owners on the Coast.
"Once we get the information from our residents, we will compile it, so we can give state and federal officials a clear picture of how important this bill really is," said Moran.
An electronic version of the insurance survey is available on the city's Web site at www.oceansprings-ms.gov.
Mississippi Sun Herald, March 11, 2008 -- Residents became "citizen planners" March 10 as the city began a weeklong public design forum to help decide the future looks and functions of the downtown and beachfront areas.
About 100 people attended the first event at Ocean Springs Middle School and were given an introduction to what city officials and planners are asking of the public before being tasked to draw and notate their ideas for the future on maps spread across several tables.
Urban planners -- such as Florida-based Dover, Kohl & Partners -- and traffic engineers were on hand to facilitate the session. They worked in the Mary C. O'Keefe Cultural Center all week and held an open house March 12 so residents could see how their ideas fit into overall plans. On March 14, a work-in-progress session was held at the Ocean Springs Civic Center.
Mayor Connie Moran said the city has about $4 million in grants to make the ideas come to life. The future of the city's waterfront and downtown were the focus of the exercise.
Moran said particular concerns include waterfront use, both commercial and recreational, vehicle and pedestrian traffic citywide, parking, and promoting tourism while preserving community aesthetics.
The city is making progress to bring the citizens of Ocean Springs a new public safety center and new and improved recreation facilities.
Public Safety Facility: A site analysis is under way on property east of the Civic Center on Bienville Boulevard, adjacent to city-owned property on two sides. This will accommodate new police and fire departments, courtroom and holding cells, and the emergency operations center. The city anticipates a $3 million grant to assist with funding for the fire department and EOC. This project is a high priority to break ground this summer and to complete the entire facility.
Soccer/baseball Complex on Hwy 57: This 37-acre complex will have five baseball and four adult softball fields, four international soccer complexes, and two football fields and parking.
Tennis Courts at Alice Street: Six new courts will replace the present courts, with lighting, new parking and pedestrian access to Alice Street ball fields.
Gay Lemon Park: The Recreation Master Plan calls for a multi-purpose facility to be built on the present site of the softball fields at Gay Lemon, but that would not commence until the Highway 57 site is completed.
City of Pascagoula Director of Administration Harrietta Eaton, MPA, reports:
Pascagoula is continuing to move forward with progress along the beachfront area. The Beach Park Pier will reopen to the public by the end of April. The pier was completely destroyed during Hurricane Katrina. The new pier has been built to be more storm resistant in the future. In addition, a new sand beach extending from the Beach Park Pier westward is in the preliminary design phase by the Mobile District of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. It is part of the Mississippi Coastal Improvement Project and will provide a buffer zone for future storm events. The city of Pascagoula also has plans to build a promenade along Beach Boulevard that will include a concrete walkway for pedestrians. The city has other plans in the works that will continue to promote a walkable community.
The state legislature is considering a bill that will allow development on Lowry Island in Pascagoula. This land is controlled by the Secretary of State's Office and had restrictions that limited certain types of development on the property. The bill proposes to allow certain parts of the land to be used for multi-residential development that could be used for condominiums and even a marina. The bill is now headed to Governor Haley Barbour for his approval and is expected to become law.
Preliminary studies have started to consider bringing a retired Navy ship to Pascagoula for use as a tourist attraction. On April 19, the Ticonderoga Task Force held an official kickoff for this endeavor at Beach Park.
Harrison County is currently under way with its comprehensive planning effort. In March, two Ideas Forums were held to allow citizens to share their great ideas for the plan. The draft plan will be available for public review in May.
In ceremonies April 7, William Carey University broke ground on its new 50-acre campus in the Tradition master planned community, located just north of the cities of Biloxi and Gulfport. Tradition Founder Joseph C. Canizaro marked the occasion with the unveiling of the Tradition Town Center master plan and announced a new housing initiative for William Carey faculty, staff and students.
William Carey University will be the first piece of the 655-acre Tradition Town Center. At full build-out, the Town Center will be an economic development center for the entire region, ultimately creating more than 7,000 jobs. The first "District" -- the University Village -- will be followed by a Health & Education Center, Research/Office Center, Mixed Use District, Retail Center, and civic facilities, including the Tradition City Hall.
The WCU Family Plan will allow more faculty, staff and students to live, work and learn at Tradition. Homes will be made more affordable by providing a significant cost savings through soft second mortgage financing and absorbing a portion of the high cost of insurance.
Stated Canizaro, "We believe that this land should be a home for people from all walks of life."
The Times-Picayune, April 8, 2008 -- Thousands of New Orleans area Catholics still struggling to right their Katrina-damaged lives are bracing for the possibility of a new blow, when the Archdiocese of New Orleans will announce which beloved but damaged churches will not reopen.
The list of closures likely will include weakened parishes and churches in New Orleans, St. Bernard and Plaquemines that never recovered after the 2005 storm because buildings are damaged and surrounding neighborhoods remain stripped of most of their populations.
But closings apparently will include some undamaged parishes as well -- perhaps some suburban parishes far from the flood zone. The archdiocese has said the time has come to accommodate a slower-moving disaster: the steady loss of priests to man their pulpits. While most of the attention centered on closings, it's also possible that a few dormant parishes might reopen in communities slowly returning to life.
The reorganization surely will have a profound effect on the neighborhoods surrounding the churches slated to be shuttered, many of them still caught in the limbo of hurricane recovery.
''You have a tremendous opportunity to borrow the best from your past. You have a chance to grab the reins,'' said Washington, D.C.-based Smart Growth America Communications Director David Goldberg at the March 2008 Economic Outlook Conference held by Louisiana State University (LSU)-Shreveport's Center for Business and Economic Research, telling the audience of civic, business, political and military leaders that population growth will revive the housing industry, but that communities must plan to make the make most of available materials, energy and other resources.
Rooted in a vision of strong communities, a vigorous economy, and a healthy environment, reports Shreveport Times writer John Andrew Prime, Smart Growth aims to reverse the long suburbanization and auto-dependency trend, and to attract residents back to cities and community cores.
Such a change helps people reduce car trips and energy consumption, and address problems that might have been previously ignored ''as out-of-sight, out-of-mind,'' the writer observes, noting that compact development ''where it can happen best'' prevents urban sprawl and destruction of habitat and other special places.
The Associated Press, Feb. 27, 2008 -- A plan to move people living in trailers to apartments and hotels because of concerns about formaldehyde fumes will not work and will lead to a "second great displacement" of New Orleans residents, the city's mayor said. There simply isn't enough other housing available in the hurricane-distressed region, Mayor Ray Nagin said in a letter to President Bush released Feb. 26.
"Because of the scope of damage to New Orleans' housing stock, much of which is still not recovered, there is insufficient housing here to place all New Orleans citizens needing to be relocated from trailers," Nagin wrote.
R. David Paulison, the administrator for the Federal Emergency Management Agency, said earlier this month that the agency hopes to get everyone out and into hotels, motels, apartments and other temporary housing by the summer, when the heat and stuffy air could worsen dangerous levels of formaldehyde fumes found in the trailers.
James McIntyre, a spokesman for the Federal Emergency Management Agency, said Wednesday that the mayor's letter was addressed to the president and that his agency had not received an official copy. He said FEMA would work with Nagin's office to address his concerns "within our legal authorities."
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention this month said that formaldehyde fumes from 519 trailers and mobile homes tested in Mississippi and Louisiana were, on average, about five times what people are exposed to in most modern homes.
Brief updates on Mississippi Gulf Coast communities' progress toward renewal can be e-mailed to Jason Miller at email@example.com.
Bookmark these Web sites to stay on top of rebuilding efforts along the Gulf Coast.
Center for Planning Excellence (La.)
The Clarion-Ledger (Miss.)
Congress for the New Urbanism
Governor’s Office of Recovery and Renewal (Miss.)
Katrina Cottage Housing
Mississippi Governors Commission
Mississippi Renewal Forum
New Urban Guild
New Urban News
NOLA.com (“Everything New Orleans”)
South Mississippi Sun Herald
Times Picayune (New Orleans)
Unified New Orleans Plan