Coast is better prepared but still needs federal assist

South Mississippi enters the 2009 hurricane season better prepared than in the past, but there are significant issues that remain unresolved from the disastrous 2005 hurricane season.
Here are three of the more pressing needs that deserve immediate congressional action.
* Housing: There are roughly 5,000 low- and moderate-income individuals in South Mississippi who desperately need vouchers in order to afford rental units now available.
And while 5,000 is a large number, it pales in comparison to the more than 70,000 Mississippi households that moved into temporary facilities provided by FEMA following Katrina. That number has been reduced to approximately 2,000, and Congress should extend the Disaster Housing Assistance Program for one last effort to reduce the number to zero.
* Stennis Space Center: The former Army Ammunition Plant is in need of $114 million in repairs – $49 million of which is for damage caused by Katrina. To secure the plant, which cost $1 billion to build, for future use, Congress should repair it in order to protect its investment in this national asset.
* Coastal defense: Congress is already considering $489 million for the Mississippi Coastal Improvements Program, which includes the restoration and fortification of the barrier islands between the Mississippi Sound and the Gulf of Mexico. “The barrier islands and coastal wetlands serve as the primary defense for the Mississippi Gulf Coast against ocean waves and surge caused by tropical storms and hurricanes. As a result of Hurricane Katrina and other recent storms, the barrier islands and other coastal lands are in a degraded state and are failing to provide the level of protection needed,” according to a statement from Sen. Thad Cochran’s office. We appreciate the incredible size of this appropriation – nearly half-a-billion dollars, but we would note that Congress has already appropriated approximately 28 times that amount to enhance Louisiana’s hurricane defenses.
While these items are of great concern, we cannot enter hurricane season this month without recognizing the magnificent progress that has been made since Aug. 29, 2005. The communications and transportation infrastructure in South Mississippi is spectacularly better. And the Coast now boasts two self-contained shelters at the new high schools in Harrison County and D’Iberville.
Wider roads and higher bridges and safer shelters make us better prepared as a community for this hurricane season than ever before. But because the only thing certain about hurricane season is its uncertainty, we encourage all South Mississippians to make and maintain their personal preparations.
– Sun Herald, Biloxi/Gulfport

Joe Rutherford