University of Idaho College of Law Public Interest Law Group

Anna – Track I – SURVEY FOR NORTH GULFPORT COMMUNITY LAND TRUST

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Over the past week a group of us have been working with the North Gulfport Community Land Trust surveying the northern neighborhood of North Gulfport. On August 29, 2005 the city was hit by the strong eastern side of Hurricane Katrina. Gulfport was devastated. Almost three years later, this community is slowly coming back. There is continuous construction, and the city is placing a special emphasis on development according to Smart Code. Smart Code emphasizes preservation of the historic architecture of a community while also creating walkable communities.

The issue we were surveying involved the plans of the Port Authority to expand the local port. As part of the expansion, the Port Authority is planning to build an inland storage facility in North Gulfport. The proposed storage facility is right in the middle of a neighborhood. The facility will require filling in 70 acres of wetlands, making an already low lying area even more susceptible to flooding. Additionally, the facility will be used to store large containers, machinery, and because the need to refrigerate their cargo, diesel trucks running all night.

Erika and I accompanied by our “escort” Shirley set out to find out what members of North Gulfport had to say about the expansion. The Land Trust set us up with escorts from North Gulfport so there would be someone familiar with neighborhood as well as its residents. The comments we received were hardly surprising…most folks had not heard of the expansion much less knew that it was going to be put in right in their back yards. The reactions to our remarks were mixed and often heart breaking. Most importantly the port expansion project is being financed by diverting 600 million dollars from the housing recovery fund. The need for housing is still so great, however, the port is the life line for this community. The port provides jobs and prior to Katrina there were even more jobs. We were talking to folks whose families had worked for the port for several generations. The ideological struggle was obvious in discussing the negative repercussions of having the inland port built so close to their community and going against a company that had given their families so much. Responses we received included, “Its coming anyways…”; “A man can endure almost anything….”. There were people in support due to the promise of more jobs, and the proposed addition also included more casinos with the promise of revenues for roads and schools. When we discussed the positives with people there was a substantial amount of skepticism. One came to the quick realization that politics/racism largely interfered with this neighborhood seeing a dollar of the promised revenues.

The experience has been indescribable. Going door to door and being welcomed into people’s homes was so wonderful. Everyone was so grateful for the work we were doing there and equally appreciative that we are aware of the effects of Katrina nearly three years later. It felt really good to be working for a community that had continuously been ignored by the greater population of MS and giving a voice to people that perhaps hadn’t this opportunity before. The ignorance of the greater population was thrown in our faces when we stopped at a local McDonalds to get directions to North Gulfport. After asking directions we were told by one of the white patrons, “You know that is an all black neighborhood right?” Going door to door for four days allowed us to interact with many lovely people. There is still so much work to be done in Gulfport, but there is an underlying strength that reminds one that whatever the impacts of Mother Nature, people will manage to put their lives back together. Perhaps one of the most poignant conversations I had was with a man named Mr. Johnson*. When discussing everything from the port expansion project to the upcoming presidential elections, his wise words should resonate with us all. He said that in all the talk of rebuilding after Katrina and as well as the upcoming presidential election, there is a vital message missing. Love thy neighbor. If people actually cared what happened to each other regardless of race, sexual orientation, ethnicity, economic status, the world would be a different place. Maybe people would care more that there were still people living in card board boxes, tents, poisoned FEMA trailers, and think twice before putting an industrial facility next to someone’s home.

Anna Faller

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Written by jrdo410

March 14, 2008 at 10:03 am

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