A municipal harbor, a project that’s been talked about here since the 1980s, will finally get under way when construction begins mid November.
Mayor Les Fillingame is among backers who believe that the $21.1 million recreational harbor will come to define the city’s waterfront and revitalize the downtown that was wiped away by Hurricane Katrina.
“Bay St. Louis has always had the most developable waterfront on the Mississippi Gulf Coast but was never able to place that development there,” he said.
Federal grant money that became available after Katrina gave the project momentum, along with the persistent backing of supporters who believe the city will become the premier destination for recreational boaters on the Mississippi Coast.
They envision boaters mooring their vessels at the foot of Main Street and walking to the nearby restaurants, art galleries, antique stores and other businesses.
“This will be a harbor for the ages,” Fillingame said. “Bay St. Louis won’t be distinguishable without the harbor in the next couple of years.”
The proximity of the harbor to Old Town gives it a big advantage, said Fillingame, who likens the Bay setting to Key West. While there are harbors in other coastal cities, he said, U.S. 90 is a barrier between the waterfront and the retail areas.
“It’s not as cozy as in Bay St. Louis, where boaters can get out and walk up into the downtown community and do whatever they want to do,” he said.
Fillingame expects the harbor to attract boaters from the Lake Pontchartrain Basin to South Alabama who he said are “constantly looking for very unique destinations to moor their boats for a day or two or three and not need a car to find entertainment and places to eat and shop.”
The main contract, which was signed last week, was awarded to Gill’s Crane & Dozer Services Inc. of Slidell, La. Work includes the $19.4 million harbor and the Rutherford Pier, which will be rebuilt closer to Main Street than the one at Ulman Avenue that was destroyed by Katrina.
The harbor will have four piers with room for a fifth and a total of 168 slips, all with electrical and water connections. The slips will be from 35 feet to 60 feet in length.
The concrete breakwater, designed to protect the interior of the basin, will be wide enough for electric carts to shuttle boaters to their piers and a pedestrian access ramp from street level.
The $1.9 million pier will be 1,100 feet long and about 10 feet wide with four covered pavilions and a fishing deck plus two restrooms with showers. A large recreational beach will be just north of the pier. The parking lot will accommodate 130 vehicles. There will be 24-hour harbor master service.
Dredging will remove about 150,000 cubic yards of material which will be used as backfill for the parking lot and to re-nourish and widen the beach from the pier to U.S. 90 to 250 feet.
When the project is completed in about a year and a half, Fillingame said, it will be “the most accessible public beach, pier and harbor for those who go and come or stay a while. It’s a tremendous opportunity to grow traffic in downtown and make it more attractive.”