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MS Begins Rising From the Rubble

Mon November 21, 2005 - Southeast Edition
Maybelle G. Cagle



When the Governor’s Commission on Recovery, Rebuilding and Renewal in Mississippi held an unprecedented planning session this fall in Biloxi, contractors, builders and developers were intentionally omitted from the first planning step.

At the event named the Mississippi Renewal Forum, local leaders and elected officials took planning teams to 11 coastal towns heavily damaged by Hurricane Katrina.

Without those from the construction industry in the room, the teams heard from local residents about each town’s unique character, and helped draw plans to address the vision of local residents.

“The commission intentionally left out contractors, builders and developers from the first planning step, because we wanted the plans to be written by and for the people who will live there,” said Will Longwitz, a spokesperson of the Governor’s Commission. The day after the Mississippi Renewal Forum, contractors, builders, developers and others were invited to see the plans.

Hundreds of architects, engineers, city planners and other professionals from Mississippi and around the world were part of the teams.

Coastal towns that will have to rebuild are Bay St. Louis, Biloxi, D’Iberville, Gautier, Gulfport, Long Beach, Pascagoula, Pass Christian, Ocean Springs, Moss Point and Waveland.

“Contractors, builders and developers will work with municipalities as they start their building projects and begin implementing each town’s plans,” said Longwitz.

Preliminary plans designed for each town can be found at www.governorscommission.com. More detailed plans are expected to be added soon.

Each town has its own set of opportunities and challenges. Towns in Hancock County — Waveland and Bay St. Louis — received very heavy structural damage and in some cases lost their entire infrastructure to the storm surge.

“The rebuilding will be different from towns in Jackson County, where the hurricane hit certain areas very hard, but towns are up and running,” Longwitz said. “Some towns will examine their zoning and coding laws. Some towns will make major transportation changes that affect rebuilding plans. Many towns will use this tragedy as an opportunity to rebuild better than before.”

Some people have already started rebuilding homes and businesses in south Mississippi.

“The Governor’s Commission on Recovery, Rebuilding and Renewal hopes to make south Mississippians aware of all their options as they begin to plan for their futures. It’s important that we rebuild bigger and better, stronger and safer. A broad vision for rebuilding will help us get the job done right. Local governments have always had authority over building and permitting, and they always will. The commission wants to help people think long-term,” he added.

The commission’s job, according to Longwitz, is to facilitate discussion among south Mississippi citizens and to submit a report to Gov. Haley Barbour outlining the people’s vision of the region’s future.

Longwitz said the report is due to the governor by Dec. 31 and that there are no plans for the commission to continue after that.

“The report will make some recommendations based on public input, but it will be up to private citizens along with local and state governments to implement rebuilding plans,” he added.

While the recommendations are yet to be known, the commission has outlined some goals concerning the rebuilding, including the establishment of a statewide building code. Uniform and consistent building codes across jurisdictions would facilitate the rebuilding, according to the commission. This goal has the backing of the Associated General Contractors of Mississippi and the Mississippi Association of Builders and Contractors.

The ways being mentioned by the commission to establish a statewide building code include prioritizing regulations for six coastal county codes responding to the need for wind loads; educating legislators, public officials, elected local officials and the media; establishing a commission to implement a uniform code and enlisting support from a construction coalition, insurance commission, financial institutions, fire marshals and supervisors.

Longwitz said he doesn’t know whether the commission will make recommendations about building codes. However, officials of the AGC and ABC in Mississippi have previously said they expect to discuss the issue with Barbour before the legislation moves forward.

Barbour has urged the affected counties to establish strong building codes, like International Building Code standards.

Several Mississippi construction companies with offices on the coast are working on hurricane repair projects and ongoing projects that had started before the hurricane.

Roy Anderson Corp. (RAC) is working on several projects including: Hard Rock Hotel and Casino, Grand Casino Resort, Imperial Palace and Boomtown Casino, all in Biloxi, and Casino Magic in Bay St. Louis. Other projects under way are Memorial Hospital at Gulfport, Hancock Bank and the Peoples Bank.

The Hard Rock, which was being built by RAC, was nearing completion when Hurricane Katrina struck. Now, the company is working to demolish the casino and removing debris from property. The job should be completed by the end of 2005.

Gina Dambrino, a spokesperson of RAC, said the reconstruction is on a 12 to 15 month schedule while the owners evaluate varying designs for the casino and the concrete piling substructure.

“The casino was a total loss and there was interior and exterior damage on the first two levels of the hotel, lobby and parking garage. Structural damage to all structures is at a minimum except for the casino,” she added.

The company’s additional hurricane repair projects are for the City of Gulfport and involve schools, City Hall, police stations and the state port at Gulfport. RAC also is working on projects for the Hancock County Schools and Pass Christian Schools.

“The devastation of Katrina will be a true test for our Gulf Coast municipalities, state agencies and federal government to work together in a concerted partnership to rebuild and shape the vision for the entire Gulf Coast,” said Roy Anderson III, president and CEO. “With any tragedy, there will be opportunities to pursue that will, hopefully, improve the quality of life and economic standards along the entire Gulf South region. The will of our Gulf Coast residents and the unselfish deeds of thousands of caring people will be forever remembered.”

Yates Construction has been involved with picking up and disposing storm debris for the city of Biloxi. Jim McArthur, Yates’ manager of business development, said the company expects to be a major contractor on the coast in the rebuilding effort.

McArthur said the company started work several days after the storm on a 70-hour emergency award contract, but the official bid contract work started Sept. 11.

“The unusual part of this is Katrina destroying 250,000 homes and the amount of debris which has been generated,” he added. “The scope of the work is to remove, haul, clean debris inside city rights of way. Our contract has been amended for an additional 90 days to enter private residential properties, which have been condemned and haul them off,” McArthur said.

Approximately 120 employees are involved with the cleanup.

McArthur said Jan. 24 is the end date, but the contract could be extended.

The city of Biloxi is split into three sections, with Yates’ section having the most debris. By the end of its contract, the company expects to have picked up 1 million cu. yds. of debris. The company went through a competitive bid process and is being paid $16 per cubic yard to collect, haul and sort debris. CEG