When the Jimmy Rutherford Pier is completed in the next month or so, it will have the distinction of being the last FEMA project on Bay St. Louis’s long list of almost 70 post-Katrina projects worth around $80.5 million.
Mayor Les Fillingame said, “It is very exciting to get to the point where we are trying to wrap up the very last project.”
The municipal pier, named for a late city elected official, came to be the last of the FEMA projects because the Department of Housing and Urban Development wouldn’t fund the city’s long-planned harbor unless it included something to replace an asset that was lost to the storm.
“When the opportunity came to get the harbor funded, Gov. Barbour immediately saw the connection and said we can make this an expansion of the rebuilding of the pier project and it will work for everybody,” said Fillingame. “That’s all that HUD was looking for to award the CDBG monies and that was a tremendous opportunity for the city.”
“The pier was so late being completed only because of the harbor project we ended up attaching it to,” Fillingame said. “Had we done just a standalone project to reconstruct the pier like it was prior to Katrina we would have started it years ago.”
After Hurricane Katrina bore through Mississippi’s coastal towns with unprecedented destruction, federal money began pouring in to pay for the recovery and rebuilding. New municipal buildings, parks, streets and sidewalks, among many other improvements, all are the result of billions of federal dollars.
Fillingame said all of the FEMA projects were designed to return things to the way they were prior to the storm and that the Community Development Block Grants paid for revitalization projects such as the harbor, which has been on the city’s wish list for years.
“In a nutshell, our community could not have recovered, we could not have brought our infrastructure back had we been left to do it on our own. We would not have survived without FEMA and CDBG recovery monies,” said Fillingame.
The largest FEMA project for Bay St. Louis was the total replacement of the sewer, water and gas systems and the roadways and sidewalks where the infrastructure in-ground work was done. That cost was more than $60 million.
Early on, Fillingame said, FEMA wanted only to repair the infrastructure but the city pressed to replace the aging systems that were failing and hard to maintain. “They finally brought in a team of experts and within days (of inspecting the systems), they condemned the entire system and obligated themselves to a complete replacement project” in the areas hardest hit by flood waters. The cost went from around $8 million to more than $60 million.
Even with the scope of the project, Fillingame said. “We were the first city on the Coast to be finished with all our infrastructure projects.”
The second-to-last project to be completed was McDonald Field, a former ball field that got a makeover and now has a splash pad.
Now all eyes are on the city’s $27 million harbor, which will be completed in May. It is expected to bring more visitors and investments to the Main Street/Old Town district, known for its shops and restaurants. Boosters have the relocated municipal pier to thank for that.
“Basically we would not have qualified for the harbor money unless we has lost the pier, which we were going to end up attaching it to anyway,” said Fillingame. “Everything fell into place like it was meant to be.”