Ship for Brains: Emeril Blasts Port Plans

As a Port of Gulfport slabee who saw first hand the inadequacy of the decision making from Don Allee’s office prior to Hurricane Katrina their neighborhood ruining, ill advised westward expansion plan came as no shock to me when it was announced early this year. The plan ran into a buzz-saw of local opposition lead by Rick Carter, whose Island View Casino would lose it’s Island View had the Port filled in the sea-bottom and expanded to the west. Today we are greeted with this story in the Sun Herald on Emeril Lagasse coming out in opposition to the Port’s plans, no doubt in a preemptive strike as Allee and company seem determined to spoil the area’s fragile ecology even further.

Bam! With a bad taste in his mouth, one of the South’s most famous chefs wants to send the Port of Gulfport’s expansion plan back to the kitchen.

Emeril Lagasse said this week he would not have opened his new Emeril’s Gulf Coast Fish House at the Island View Casino had he known the Port of Gulfport wanted to expand in front of the restaurant, potentially blocking its view of the Mississippi Sound.

“One of the reasons we were motivated to open a new restaurant at that location was because of its natural beauty, located directly across from the beach and, of course, the beautiful view beyond,” Lagasse wrote in a letter to Island View owner Rick Carter.

Casino executives are expecting the Port Authority to release a revised plan for expansion later this week, and many residents, business leaders and politicians are hoping the new proposal calls for a southward rather than westward expansion.

Island View executives and residents of West Gulfport have been the most ardent critics of the port’s plan to expand west along the beachfront nearly to Broad Avenue. Such an expansion would put cargo vessels and shipping terminals in front of the casino and Lagasse’s restaurant.

In his letter, Lagasse cited a recent report by the New Orleans Times-Picayune that listed his Gulf Coast Fish House and the Island View among the “new hot spots” in South Mississippi.

“It is a pleasure for us to see, and to be a part of, the tremendous rebirth on the Mississippi Gulf Coast,” Lagasse said. “In the midst of all of the hope and excitement, however, I am concerned.”

Lagasse said his restaurant in Gulfport was designed with a wraparound porch and large windows facing the beach, and a massive westward expansion of the port would spoil the picturesque sights.

Carter said he “absolutely agrees” with Lagasse’s stance on the port’s planned expansion.

“I recognize that Emeril could have opened a restaurant at a number of venues across this country, and doing so surely would have been the easier route, in light of the Gulf Coast’s post-Katrina situation,” Carter said. “By extending the port to the west, it would destroy the view that Emeril’s Gulf Coast Fish House and Island View was built around.”

Lagasse joins a growing list of bigwigs who have criticized the port’s westward expansion. Earlier this year five members of the state House, from Pass Christian to Biloxi, signed a letter stressing that to “the greatest extent feasible” the port should expand to the south, instead.

In addition, Gov. Haley Barbour has told the Sun Herald he, too, supports a southward expansion.

Casino executives say they’ve invested more than $300 million into the gambling property, and state lawmakers said the current proposal to expand west would “jeopardize future plans.”