A major trend being seen on the Coast right now is a northward migration. Some very large housing projects are planned north of Interstate 10 including the 11,000-acre Horizon Development in Stone County near Perkinston where developers are planning 8,000 homes in phase one.
The developer of that project, Bob Windham, says he originally planned to develop houses south of Interstate 10, but found that insurance estimates were only 25% as high in Stone County.
Three large housing developments planned closer to I-10 that would provide housing for up to 10,000 new households have sparked an annexation battle. The new developments could double the size of D’Iberville, whose population went from 8,146 before the storm to 7,064 afterwards. Biloxi’s population went down from 49,904 to 44,342.
D’Iberville city manager Richard Rose says the city wants its residents to come back as soon as possible. But there are a lot of reasons they haven’t. D’Iberville had approximately 400 homes that were completely destroyed. Many more were damaged.
“Many of those residents who were in the surge zone have refurbished their homes and fortunately have been able to move back in and are trying to adjust back to a normal life,” Rose says. “There are lots of reasons why more haven’t come back, including insurance.”
Rose says the population loss on the Coast could be a major concern. If the population hasn’t come back by 2010, it could impact the amount of funding local governments received.
“That number can drop dramatically because of population shift to other areas outside of the Coast,” he says.
Population shifts could also impact voter districting.
“Right now, we’re gathering data to illustrate the population shift, and we plan to have discussions with the Department of Justice regarding possible re-districting before the 2009 elections,” says Biloxi Mayor A.J. Holloway. “This, I think, would be the fairest thing to do, so that all areas of the city have the proper representation. But it will be a challenge to get all of the sufficiently reliable data and approvals in adequate time. We have to continue to meet the threshold of the Voting Rights Act of 1965.”
Holloway says people in places that have been hit by catastrophic hurricanes will tell you that whatever trends you were seeing before the storm will continue afterward, but will speed up dramatically.
“That’s the story of the population shifts in Biloxi,” Holloway says. “We had been seeing a shift from the tip of the peninsula to West Biloxi and just before the storm to North Biloxi. We lost 6,000 homes and businesses to the storm, and the majority of those homes were in east Biloxi and primarily in the area known as Point Cadet. Issues with insurance and the cost of construction as well as the opportunity to sell to development mean that Point Cadet will never have the residential base it had before. Instead, you’ll see increased population in northern parts of the city. We were starting to see that before the storm, and, as such were moving forward with plans for increased infrastructure in that area.”
Both Biloxi and D’Iberville want to expand their borders to the areas north of I-10 that are attracting a lot of attention from developers.
Rose thinks D’Iberville has the edge in an annexation battle with Biloxi.
“D’Iberville has a better position because our water and sewer infrastructure is closer than Biloxi,” Rose says. “We are the easiest access within .9 of a mile and Biloxi is six miles away. I think that is the growth both municipalities are looking to enjoy for the citizens. But if the City of D’Iberville doesn’t get it, it will be difficult for developers to see water and sewer for many years to come.”
Not surprisingly, Biloxi disagrees about which city is best suited to annex the area.
“Let’s look at the facts here,” says Biloxi public affairs manager Vincent Creel. “We are talking about a city (D’Iberville) that doesn’t have its own police department, has one fire station, and until recent years depended on the county to provide and maintain its infrastructure. Biloxi, on the other hand, has more firefighters assigned to one area of the city, Woolmarket, than D’Iberville has in its entire department.”
Creel says the area the city is seeking to annex is in Biloxi’s natural path of growth. He says Biloxi has the financial wherewithal and is most capable of providing the municipal-quality services.
“In fact, if you look at the overall body of work and investment throughout our city — including Woolmarket — over the past several years, it should be an easy decision on who is best suited to serve this area,” Creel says.
Contact MBJ contributing writer Becky Gillette at email@example.com.