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Casino World one project affected by Corps of Engineers

Questions remain on casino moratorium

gulfport — It is unclear which pending Coast casino projects are going to be delayed because of a U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (COE) moratorium on new casino developments in residential and undeveloped areas of the Coast.

In early March, the COE directed the Mobile District to not issue any new permits for casinos in neighborhood or residential areas of the Coast until a two-year Environmental Impact Study (EIS) can be conducted into the secondary and cumulative impacts of casinos developments.

The day before the letter came from Michael L. Davis, Deputy Assistant Secretary for the COE in Washington, the Mobile District issued a draft permit for the Casino World development in Diamondhead. Casino World proposes two 60,000-square-foot casino barges, a 450-room hotel, a nine-hole golf course and a sports and entertainment complex near Interstate 10.

Pat Robbins, spokesman for the Mobile District of the COE, said that the Casino World permit — like most similar permits — had conditions attached to the draft permit.

The procedure is that the permit applicant must sign the permit acknowledging that they agree to the conditions. Only after the draft permit is signed and returned is the final permit issued.

Robbins said it is not yet clear whether or not the Casino World permit falls under the moratorium or not. He said the Mobile District will ask for direction from headquarters in Washington to determine if the Casino World permit will be included in the casino moratorium.

Reilly Morse, attorney for the Gulf Islands Conservancy and neighborhood groups which oppose the Casino World development and other casinos developments in residential or undeveloped areas, said his groups believe that Casino World and all other pending casino permit applications are included in the EIS.

“The only permit not still pending is for Circus Circus,” Morse said. “But each of the developers of the other projects is going to push very hard to find some loophole or extenuating circumstances.”

D’Iberville city officials are working to exempt the proposed Royal D’Iberville casino from the moratorium. The proposed Royal D’Iberville casino is located west of the I-110 bridge in a residential area.

However, the coastal zoning of the area was changed to commercial, so D’Iberville officials are arguing that a permit for the casino shouldn’t be held up while the EIS is conducted.

Mayor Rusty Quave said that a chancery court judge ruled there were prior commercial uses of the site next to the I-110 bridge, and upheld a Commission on Marine Resources ruling that there was an error in the original coastal zoning plan, and the areas should be properly zoned for commercial development.

The Mobile District of the COE sent out a public notice on the Royal D’Iberville Development on March 23, about 20 days after the EIS was ordered. Public notices are sent out for comment before permits are issued.

The EIS is only for residential and undeveloped areas of the Coast, and isn’t expected to affect casino permit applications at areas which are already commercial.

The Circus Circus and Casino World sites are not developed, but have been rezoned to commercial by the Mississippi Commission on Marine Resources.

Quave said he favors the EIS, but doesn’t believe the D’Iberville’s site should be included in the two-year moratorium until the EIS is completed. “I think they should do an EIS, but I don’t see justification for this to stop my casino,” Quave said. “Our permit would have been processed if we hadn’t had a fine levied against us.”

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) recommended Mississippi Design and Development (dba as Moran, Seymour & Associates) be fined $60,000 for unlawful dredging to berth a casino barge at the site in D’Iberville. EPA alleged that the engineering firm used illegal dredging with prop wash from tug boats to remove 750 cubic yards of sediment in order to dock the casino barge at the site.

The casino barge, which is not yet completed, was moved to the D’Iberville site under an emergency permit to provide docking during the hurricane season. The casino recently received approval for a permanent permit from the CMR.

The proposed $300-million Circus Circus resort near Interstate 10 in Harrison County would be located not far from the proposed Casino World development in Diamondhead, which is in Hancock County. Although Circus Circus has a permit, court challenges to the project remain.

Circus Circus Enterprises Inc. stock went down 12% March 23 after it was announced that merger talks with Hilton Hotels Corp. were broken off.

About Becky Gillette

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