LONG BEACH — What a difference a gravel plant makes. Prior to facilitating the siting of the Yelvington aggregate facility at the Long Beach Industrial Park, there was little controversy regarding the efforts of the Harrison County Development Commission (HCDC) to promote industrial development.
But neighbors of the aggregate plant are now vocally criticizing the actions of the HCDC, unhappy that tax money has been used to promote a business that they say is causing dust, noise, vibration and an increase in truck traffic that is diminishing the quality of life and the value of their homes.
A neighborhood group called Citizen Association for Responsible Development (CARD) has been critical of the HCDC for promoting the aggregate plant. CARD has sued to prevent a proposed land swap that would trade 18 acres of land owned by Conrad Yelvington for 12 acres of land owned by Harrison County.
Members of CARD have spoken out with complaints about how the HCDC operates. A recent front page article in the Sun Herald said: “A residents group on Tuesday accused the Harrison County Development Commission of operating in secret, being too cozy with developers, failing to cough up public records and in general not representing county residents in matters of development.”
“Since this controversy about the aggregate plant started, the development commission has acted as an advocate for the out-of-state developer over the objections of the taxpayers,” says CARD president Jeffery Taylor, a periodontist practicing in Gulfport who lives in Pass Christian near the Long Beach Industrial Park. “That’s very frustrating. I think one of the principal points that needs to be articulated is that, in medicine, the first rule is do no harm. If you are going to do a procedure, there needs to be a very good reason to do it. If you are going to put something like this in a neighborhood that causes harm to people, there should be a greater good. To this date no one has been able to articulate a greater good for this plant in this particular location. The harm is obvious. So what is the greater good?”
Michael Olivier, executive director of the HCDC, said members of CARD are misrepresenting the facts and have refused to acknowledge that the development commission has acted appropriately in its actions utilizing an asset that is an industrial park.
“They refuse to acknowledge that we have limited the use of the industrial park,” Olivier said.
Olivier said Yelvington purchased private property near the industrial park in an unzoned area of the county, and hence nothing could have been done to stop the business from opening there. The company offered to trade that private property for land nearby in the industrial park abutting the railroad, and that was how the HCDC became involved. Finalization of the land swap is now being held up by the lawsuit.
Olivier said the HCDC doesn’t meet secretly, but does have subcommittees that meet publicly to discuss issues prior to the meeting of the HCDC where formal actions are taken.
“We have a governance system that operates on the committee system, and have four committee meetings prior to full board meetings,” Olivier said. “We develop what is called a consent agenda. The committee meetings are designed to take care of all of the fact finding and debate. The full board meeting would last all day if we did not utilize a governance system harnessing the committee’s work that then develops recommendations to take to the full board. None of these people from CARD have attended any of our committee meetings. These meetings are open to the public. Reporters are there all the time, and anyone else who wants to can come to the meetings.”
CARD members also raised concerns about how zoning proposals for the industrial park have been handled. Taylor said they were told the area would be zoned I-1, light industrial. “Then, just by chance, one of the CARD member was looking at the zoning map and found it had been changed to I-2 (general industrial),” said Taylor. “We were told the zoning had been changed to heavy industrial at the request of the development commission.”
“The allegations that we changed the proposed zoning is false,” Olivier said. “The Gulf Regional Planning Commission asked us to look at a map of the unzoned areas of the county and identify where projects might be going so they could zone it appropriately. We noticed they had not provided zoning for the 4,600 acre Tradition Project, for example. The Long Beach Industrial Park was zoned agricultural/residential. So we asked, ‘Why is an industrial park zoned agricultural/residential?’ We were told they had met with the people from CARD and they had required it be zoned agriculture/residential. We pointed out it was an existing industrial park and that the consultant needed to look at the existing industry in making the zoning designation. When the consultant looked at existing industry, he termed it general industrial, I-2.”
The HCDC has proposed listing the park at I-1 provided that currently heavy industry like Oreck Manufacturing and the already announced Puget Plastics be grandfathered in, and that any other like industry that would be walled in and similar to these companies would be given a variance to move into the industrial park. Olivier said there are advantages to like industries clustering together and the prohibiting of other similar industries to locate there would severely limit the appeal of the industrial park.
Taylor said one positive outcome of the aggregate plant controversy is that people beyond the affected neighborhoods in Long Beach and Pass Christian are now paying more attention to the operations of the HCDC.
“Hopefully all the citizens on the Coast can become more aware of what is going on around them and participate,” Taylor said. “We need to make it clear that CARD is for development, but responsible development. I think you can have both. It isn’t an either/or question. If Yelvington’s business is needed on the Coast, they should be able to locate him somewhere where the quality of life for people is not harmed. There should be a balance there. Certainly the location it is in now doesn’t achieve that balance.”
Contact MBJ staff writer Becky Gillette at email@example.com or (228) 872-3457.