PASCAGOULA, Miss. (AP) Thomas “Junior” Ferguson keeps a watch for low tide.
Ferguson, who runs Ferguson Fish Camp near the head of Four Mile Creek in Escatawpa and owns a shrimp boat, said he has to be careful when leaving the dock.
“I can’t hardly get my boat out when it’s low tide,” he said. “There are two or three places where I hit bottom.”
Hurricane Katrina’s storm surge plugged the mouths of a number of streams along the Pascagoula and Escatawpa rivers. As a result, many of the waterways used by residents along the rivers are closed except at high tide.
Relief, though, could be coming as Jackson County supervisors are trying to get as many waterways dredged as time and money permit.
Ferguson said winter is particularly hard on reaching the river as winter low tides can be as much as 2 ft. below summer low tides.
Bonnie Bradley, Ferguson’s daughter, said users of the fish camp’s marina often have to paddle to get their boats from Four Mile Creek into the river.
“You can’t put the motor down unless you have a really short propeller shaft,” she said.
Ferguson has been in business on Four Mile Creek for 46 years. He said his business has dropped off about 40 percent due to low water preventing boats from getting to the river.
Four Mile Creek is not the only tributary needing dredging at its mouth.
During low tide, Albert Cochran Jr. said that Cochran Creek is 3 ft. wide and 1 ft. deep at the mouth.
“You won’t get [a large boat] out of here,” he said.
Pointing to his flat-bottom skiff, he said he had difficulty getting it out of Cochran Creek and into the Pascagoula River.
“The low tides tell you where you can go and available times to go,” he said.
Supervisor Manly Barton said the county knows there are a number of waterways that need dredging.
“We have a list and are working it down,” he said. The issue, he said, is getting permits to dredge. The permitting process, in turn, often requires expensive environmental studies of wetlands and the impact of dredging to those wetlands.
Mark Seymour, whose firm the county hired to manage the work, said dredging projects also require submerged species tests, soil testing, sturgeon and endangered species surveys, archaeological surveys, drainage surveys and permission from the Mississippi Department of Environmental Quality and other state and federal agencies.
As a result, he said, even simple projects can take years to get permitted. Once permitted, he said county officials need to move fairly quickly to do the work, since permits expire after three years.
John McKay, president of the board of supervisors, said it took him more than three years to get Davis Bayou permitted and four years to get Mars Lake permitted for dredging.
For some residents, assistance may be on the way. Supervisors voted to draw up bid documents for dredging the mouth of Four Mile Creek and Keiffer Bayou from its mouth to Lorraine Circle in St. Martin. Dredging Four Mile Creek will cost about $17,000. Dredging Keiffer Bayou will cost about $65,000.
Barton said the county has permits for dredging those two areas.
Additionally, the county awarded Tony Parnell Construction a $2.98 million contract to dredge six areas: St. Martin, Morten, Graveline, Chicot and Fort bayous and the Ocean Springs Harbor.
Barton said Tony Parnell Construction has 30 days contractually before it has to start work. He said the bayous will be completed according to a project schedule.
“We need to start on dredging,” said Barton, who added that the county might need to increase funding for dredging. “We’ve done a good job on finding alternative funding [such as Federal Emergency Management Agency funds]. But where we can’t find alternative funding, it doesn’t mean the project shouldn’t be done.”