Louisiana firm chosen to manage DMR conservation program

BILOXI — A Louisiana firm has been awarded a $1.2 million, three-year contract to manage a coastal conservation program headquartered at the Mississippi Department of Resources.

The Sun Herald reports CSRS, a Baton Rouge-based firm headed by architects and engineers, will manage the final stages of the Coastal Impact Assistance Program, the subject of a scathing audit by the U.S. Interior Department.

The Interior Department distributes to six oil-producing states money collected from offshore oil leases. From 2007 through 2010, Mississippi was awarded more than $100 million in CIAP funds, most of it spent on the Coast.

Of 105 projects funded, DMR Executive Director Jamie Miller said about 80 remain open. Miller says CSRS will make sure project deadlines are met, reporting requirements are followed and program activities comply with guidelines.

He said the company is managing the CIAP program in Louisiana and was highly recommended by a state employee there, along with scoring high on selection criteria the committee used.

The Inspector General’s report cited the state’s CIAP program for mismanagement, conflicts of interest and weak federal oversight, raising questions about $30 million of the $39 million in spending sampled for the years 2009 through 2012.

Some of the criticism involved CIAP property appraisals and land acquisition.

When CIAP is completed, Miller said, he believes 98 percent of projects will be “positively received” by the public. He said the DMR is developing long-term management plans for acquired properties, including Harbor Landing, a yacht club and boat storage facility in Ocean Springs, from David Harris and his family. Harris, the audit pointed out, was a friend of Bill Walker, DMR director at the time.

The DMR’s governing board fired Walker in January amid ongoing state and federal investigations, bringing on Miller to straighten out the agency.

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