Biloxi and Harrison County are within their rights to construct a pier at Veteran’s Avenue without a tidelands lease from the Secretary of State, according to a ruling filed Monday by Harrison County Chancery Court Judge Jennifer Schloegel. Michael Watson’s office had sued, claiming a tidelands lease was required for the pier and that the office is in charge of the sand beach, not the Harrison County Board of Supervisors.
The court came to a similar conclusion months ago in a case involving a lease at the Long Beach Harbor.
“This is outstanding news for Biloxi and all the cities and counties along the Mississippi Gulf Coast,” Mayor Andrew “FoFo” Gilich said. “This is about public access and enjoyment of the waterfront, and the cities and counties have been building piers, harbors and other amenities on the waterfront for more than a hundred years. And now that two courts have confirmed that this is legal, we hope that the Secretary of State does not spend thousands of more tidelands dollars to stand in the way of progress.”
In her 19 page ruling, Schloegel wrote:
“The Court further finds that municipal piers and harbors have been constructed within the City for many decades without the requirement of a tidelands lease from the Secretary. Pursuant to specific statutory grants, cited herein, of the right to reclaim and use Tidelands, these piers and harbors have been constructed in furtherance of the higher public purposes of the Public Trust for Tidelands. The State has acquiesced for many decades in the use of these Tidelands for these higher public purposes without having or requiring a tidelands lease from the Secretary, and, accordingly, the State is estopped from asserting that a tidelands lease is now necessary to act in furtherance of the higher public purposes of the Trust.”
The pier, which would be more than 300 feet long and made of concrete, would be handicapped accessible and would stand about 20 feet above the water. It would be at the center of the popular West Biloxi Boardwalk, a walkway that runs from Rodenberg Avenue to Camellia.
Said Gilich: “We knew what we were doing was within our rights, and now it’s time to move forward.”