‘The Greening of Moss Point’

by Becky Gillette

Published: March 30,2009

For many years, Moss Point on the Mississippi Gulf Coast was proudly known as “The Industrial City.” But, then major industries shut down such as International Paper and Rohm & Haas (earlier Morton Thiokol), leaving sites contaminated with decades of pollution.

Moss Point had to reinvent itself after losing a large number of jobs when major industries closed a few years ago. The city has been renamed “The River City,” and has undertaken so many new “green” initiatives that it attracted the attention of one of the country’s largest magazines. O, The Oprah Magazine, with a circulation of more than two million, recently did a story on the greening of Moss Point.

“Anytime you’re noticed by someone with the worldwide recognition of Oprah Winfrey, you feel privileged,” said Moss Point Mayor Xavier Bishop. “That’s certainly been the case since Moss Point was profiled in a recent issue on green living. Oprah is not only an advocate of living and living well, but also of the importance of service to others, and therefore we certainly welcome the exposure that experience provided because we can encourage others to live better, and grow and learn from others as well.”

At its height, Moss Point had seven major industries operating within its borders, making it not only the Industrial City, but the industrial capital of the Coast. The majority of those industries were located on or around the waterfront, as they had been since the city’s inception.

“Over time, they folded or moved away, leaving little more than a checkered past,” Bishop said. “Today, we’re no longer the Industrial City, and while that moniker served us well during our “industrial age,” we understand how the past, the present and the future of Moss Point begin and end with its rivers.

“Our city was born on the waterfront, it grew and prospered on the waterfront and its future growth and prosperity will be on the waterfront. Toward that end, we’ve taken on the distinction, the title and identity as simply The River City.”

Bishop refers to the familiar with the story of the goose that laid the golden egg. In the story, the owner inadvertently kills the goose when he cuts it open in his haste to get all the golden eggs at once.

“Our goose is the river, our golden egg, the commerce, industry, recreation and natural beauty it produces,” Bishop said. “As long as we nurture, care for and protect our ‘goose,’ she will continue to produce golden eggs and we will forever be The River City.”

The mayor said they have learned two valuable lessons over the past two decades.

The first is do not ever sacrifice the environment for economic development. Bishop said a case in point is that even though it is now a thing of the past, their industrial heritage continues to live with them decades after the industry has left, the result of the overuse and misuse of the natural environment.

“Fortunately for us, Mother Nature heals herself,” he said. “While the process may take generations, we’re now doing our part to let the healing take place. We believe our natural environment and economic development can and should work together.

“The second lesson the past has taught us is the benefit of having a diverse local economy, one that is not heavily reliant on one particular sector. Therefore, while we continue to pursue environmentally friendly industry for the community, we’re not overlooking the economic opportunity that exits right in our own backyard. We’re blessed to be surrounded by such natural beauty. It’s our greatest economic asset and it provides the perfect backdrop for our foray into nature-based tourism.”

Moss Point sits at the confluence of the Pascagoula and Escatawpa rivers. The Pascagoula is the only remaining major undammed river in the continental U.S. Together, the two rivers are home to some of the most unique and sought after species of plants and animals.

“The city itself sits in the direct path of the natural migratory pattern of birds that fly north in the summer and south in winter,” Bishop said. “These conditions are what led to the decision of the national Audubon Society to locate an Audubon Interpretive Center in the heart of the city.”

Like other Coast cities, Moss Point took a big hit by Hurricane Katrina with much of the city inundated by storm surge, including city buildings downtown. As devastating as Katrina was, it was also an opportunity to rebuild to higher energy efficiency standards.

“After Hurricane Katrina, the governor stated that our goal was to rebuild our communities better than they were before the storm,” Bishop said. “For us, that meant not just having better design features or moving things around, but building with greater energy efficiency in mind, using more environmentally-friendly materials and incorporating sustainable designs that adapt to changing conditions over time.”

The city had the unique opportunity of rebuilding three municipal buildings in Moss Point: a new city hall, central fire station and a new police station. Bishop said while it’s certainly a dream come true to be able to have funding to replace such critical structures, it’s also an enormous responsibility because it has such far reaching implications.

“We’re being entrusted to design, engineer and build facilities that must withstand the test of time and withstand extreme weather conditions like another hurricane,” he said. “Even though we’ll be building these structures today, we will be building them for the future. Therefore, Moss Point is looking to create institutions that will remain an asset and not become a burden to our future generations.”

Currently there are two public buildings located directly on the waterfront, City Hall and a recreation facility. Both buildings took on water from the river during Hurricane Katrina, and as a result both will be demolished and rebuilt away from the water.

A portion of the city’s waterfront redevelopment plan calls for the expansion of their waterfront park to provide greater public access to the waterfront while also creating a natural buffer between the river and other downtown structures in the case of a future event.

Bishop said the park is being designed to benefit people and wildlife such as birds, fish and other small animals. It will include natural wetlands and species of native plants, thus essentially serving as an outdoor museum that can be enjoyed and studied by all.

“For this project we’ve partnered with architectural students at the Louisiana State University School of Architecture and came up with design ideas that served as both a class project and an inspiration for our finished waterfront design,” Bishop said. “Other aspects of our waterfront redevelopment project are inspired by our desire to share the gift of our downtown waterfront with others. For example, we’re locating City Hall on Main Street, but designing it so that employees can have views of the waterfront and customers can step away from City Hall and immediately walk onto an expansive green space that connects City Hall to the waterfront.”

A simple yet functional French Market will align one edge of the green space, providing a venue for farmer’s markets and other outdoor commercial activity with a cover during inclement weather.

The city enlisted design support from The Mayor’s Institute on City Design and the Tulane Regional Urban Design Center at Tulane University for this portion of the project. Bishop said their objective was to take a second look at their downtown plan four years out from Katrina, and make certain the plan still reflected our core values and our long-range vision.

Tulane recommended some changes that will enable even more public access to the waterfront. For example, their suggestion for the redesign of Main Street will allow greater visibility of the waterfront for people meandering along Main St. This project should be underway by September and completed within 18 months.

Like many cities, Moss Point has a recycling program, thus minimizing the amount of debris and rubbish sent to the landfill. In addition, the city has taken steps to replace standard lighting with more energy efficient lights, while designs for new buildings include the use of energy efficient lighting, faucets and fixtures.

“Our goal is to reduce our energy consumption by no less than 20 percent through the design, engineering and construction of any new buildings,” Bishop said. “And we still always looking for fresh ideas, old and new approaches to living green. This includes plans for developing programs to convert vacant lots into neighborhood gardens, updating codes and ordinances to encourage the use of pervious materials to minimize runoff and to encourage energy efficiency practices like rooftop gardens.”

Monica Cooper-Battle, a community activist who is a lifelong resident of Moss Point, said the groundwork for today’s success was laid before Katrina.

“City of Moss Point’s economic development consultant Linda Holden is our city’s eco pioneer,” Cooper-Battle said. “She had the vision for Moss Point to go green before it became as popular as it is now post Katrina. There was a firm foundation for eco-friendly growth that enabled the city to move forward in this direction more quickly than in other communities.”

Cooper-Battle said Katrina brought the opportunity to rethink a lot of the city’s plans and efforts.

“City government leaders, along with community members, were left given the extraordinary opportunity to engage in conversations with environmental experts from across the country who helped to educate us on environmental and eco-friendly ideas and concepts,” she said. “Moss Point embraced those ideas and concepts, and decided to build on what was already established prior to Katrina to continue on that course.”

The city is setting a good example for citizens.

“We want to be eco friendly in our daily living not only by recycling, but by being conscious of the products we use while rebuilding as well as products we use in our homes daily such as energy efficient light bulbs, or environmentally friendly household cleaning products,” she said. “There has been a transformation of sorts of the way we now think of going green. We have broadened our knowledge and understanding of what it truly means to take care of the environment.”

Contact MBJ contributing writer Becky Gillette at 4becky@cox.net.

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