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Biloxi mayor backs AG after secretary of state’s attack over tidelands leases

Mayor FoFo Gilich (Photo courtesy of the City of Biloxi)

The mayor of Biloxi has taken a side in the fight regarding the enforcement of tidelands leases across Mississippi’s Gulf Coast.

Andrew “FoFo” Gilich released a letter of support to Attorney General Lynn Fitch and General Joe Spraggins, who is executive director of the Department of Marine Resources (DMR), on Wednesday.

In the letter, Gilich addressed Secretary of State Michael Watson’s continued push to enforce tidelands leases throughout coastal Mississippi, stating that it is “a waste of time and money.”

“The Secretary complains that he should oversee all access to tidelands,” Gilich said. “He proposes no protection for tidelands that the local governments are not already providing.”

Gilich commended Fitch’s “wisdom” in honoring the Mississippi Supreme Court’s decision to allow the city of Biloxi and Harrison County to lease property to RW Development, which was planning to use the land to rebuild a public pier at Veterans Avenue.

The ruling, which was handed down in March, stated that the documentation would not be needed as city piers have been built without a tidelands lease for years.

Gilich also referenced Watson’s recent hiring of a private firm for $75,000 to prosecute entities that are currently violating tidelands leasing laws across the coast.

“Secretary Watson’s request to hire outside counsel to address a fictional problem is counter-beneficial to all the citizens in our state,” Gilich explained. “The Secretary spent hundreds of thousands of taxpayers’ dollars suing Long Beach, Biloxi, and Harrison County to stop them from making improvements to public piers and harbors without a tidelands lease. But the Mississippi Supreme Court said the law authorizes Coast cities and counties to do so.”

For over a year, Watson has repeatedly requested Fitch’s assistance in enforcing the laws, arguing in a letter sent to the attorney general’s office in May that Fitch is costing the taxpayers unnecessary funds.

“I write once again to express my concerns about matters in which we have requested assistance from your office to no avail,” Watson said. “I have included a chronology below outlining our multiple attempts to obtain assistance from your office, as the state’s ‘law firm’ and its failure to act on behalf of my office to protect the state’s interest.”

In previous years, the secretary of state’s office has hired outside lawyers to enforce basic contract and trespass laws for the tidelands, but Watson has expressed that he believes the responsibility belongs to the attorney general’s office and the DMR.

At this time, over two dozen entities are using portions of the Mississippi tidelands without a lease, while around 12 are being accused of not paying rent to state agencies that are subleasing the tidelands.

More than 150 tidelands leases are currently active throughout the state, sending approximately $10 to $12 million a year to local governments on the coast.

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