Steps Coalition to HUD: Halt Port Expansion

January 17, 2012

Steps Coalition to HUD: Halt Port Expansion
Coalition says state is failing to meet minimum requirements for jobs creation, environmental protections

(Gulfport, Miss.) January 17, 2012 - The Steps Coalition and its partners in the recently formed Port Campaign Coalition are calling on the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) to direct the state of Mississippi to halt the distribution of federal funds to the State Port of Gulfport expansion and to demand that the state return funds to HUD.

In a letter dated January 3, 2012, attorneys for Steps outlined several areas of where Mississippi is not complying with HUD regulations.

“Our priority is that the port expansion benefits the surrounding community," said Roberta Avila, executive director of Steps Coalition. “So far, on issues ranging from job creation to environmental impact, the state has failed to produce a plan that meets even minimum requirements from HUD that would help meet these objectives.”

At the heart of Steps concerns is a promise that the HUD-financed project provides a 51 percent low- to moderate-income jobs benefit, and that environmental protections are in place for the surrounding area. Mississippi Development Authority (MDA), the entity which manages the port expansion and the expenditure of HUD funds, has failed to provide information supporting its compliance with these requirements.

Steps maintains that MDA has failed to comply with HUD in at least four important ways:

  • It has not provided a Memorandum of Understanding with Mississippi State Port Authority and its business tenants, a requirement that was due in December 2011.
  • It has failed to create and implement a method for tracking jobs
  • It has not verified whether any jobs have been created or retained
  • It did not require proof of these actions within a 30-day time period.

“The lack of compliance with HUD requirements coupled with the lack of transparency provided by MDA leads us to call on HUD to take the additional step of asking the State to both halt the expansion and return funds to HUD until such time a comprehensive plan is developed for this project,” said Reilly Morse, an attorney with Mississippi Center for Justice and Steps Coalition member.

The Port Campaign Coalition recently formed to help support the campaign for a community benefits agreement with the State Port. Members include the Steps Coalition, North Gulfport Civic Club, North Gulfport Community Land Trust, Gulfport NAACP and Soria City Civic Organization.

Coalition members are also calling on Gov. Phil Bryant and Jim Barksdale, appointed by Bryant to head to MDA, to get involved and change the course of action for the port expansion.

“Cooperation with the community is a cornerstone of any successful community development plan,” said Frances Fredericks, former state representative from Harrison County. “We hope the new administration will realize the benefits of collaborating with us to help realize the vision of a project that both provides jobs that pay a living wage and protects the surrounding community from environmental harm.”

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The Steps Coalition is a nonprofit advocacy organization that organizes its work under five social justice pillars: economic and environmental justice, affordable housing, preservation of historic communities and human rights. The Steps Coalition started the Port Campaign Coalition to educate and advocate for sustainable job creation, environmental justice and positive outcomes in the communities affected by the port expansion. The Steps Coalition is represented by the Mississippi Center for Justice, Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law and Dewey & LeBoeuf. For more information, please go online to www.stepscoalition.org.

Mississippi Center for Justice is a nonprofit, public interest law firm committed to advancing racial and economic justice. Supported and staffed by attorneys, community leaders and volunteers, the Center develops and pursues strategies to combat discrimination and poverty statewide. More information about the Center’s campaigns to advance racial and economic justice is available online at www.mscenterforjustice.org.

The Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, a nonpartisan, nonprofit organization, was formed in 1963 at the request of John F. Kennedy to involve the private bar in providing legal services to address racial discrimination. The principal mission of the Lawyers’ Committee is to secure, through the rule of law, equal justice under law. For more information, visit www.lawyerscommittee.org.