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PEER report on port expansion to be released this week

GULFPORT — A legislative committee will release a report this week on its analysis of spending at the State Port at Gulfport.

Max Arinder, director of the Performance Evaulation and Expenditure Review Committee, told The Sun Herald that the report should be available to the public Friday.

Gov. Phil Bryant, the Mississippi Development Authority and state port officials had wanted PEER to hold off the release so it could correct what they viewed as errors. Arinder says the committee was satisfied with the report and will release it without changes.

The report will include responses from the MDA and the port.

The report is expected to detail how the port is spending $600 million in federal Hurricane Katrina relief dollars. In exchange for funding, the project is supposed to create 1,200 permanent, full-time jobs.

Work is scheduled to be finished in 2017.

Community groups, and even Bryant, have in the past criticized the project’s direction.

At Republican Bryant’s behest, changes were made earlier this year before the project, started in 2008, moved forward. The MDA is overseeing the project. Community groups and some lawmakers have questioned whether the project will create the 1,200 jobs required in exchange for the federal disaster-relief money directed to the port under former Republican Gov. Haley Barbour.

Earlier this week, Rep. David Baria, D-Bay St. Louis, said it was important for the public to know how the money has been spent.

“Whether the report is good or bad,” Baria said,” we need to know what it says.”

“I’m very pleased that they have released the report and now I, along with the public, will anxiously wait to see what the report entails,” said Rep. Sonja Williams Barnes, D-Gulfport.

She said she is particularly interested to see how any PEER evaluation of projected jobs lines up with port estimates. Barnes’ constituents include members of the local International Longshoremen Association employed at the port.

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