Gene Taylor on the New Army Corp of Engineer’s Buyout Proposal

As I observed in my post yesterday on this topic, the experience of flooding out with Katrina, and then twice three years later with Ike and Gustav has taken the starch out of local popular opposition to allowing swamps and marshlands to remain in development. Our own Rep Gene Taylor was taking no chances however making sure the message the proposed ACE buyouts are voluntary has been heard loud and clear. The Sun Herald has the story:

U.S. Rep. Gene Taylor said Wednesday that South Mississippians shouldn’t panic over a proposed federal private property buyout plan that’s moving toward Congress for funding.

In fact, Taylor, D-Bay St. Louis, said that the Mississippi Coastal Improvements Plan has some excellent aspects, such as restoration of the barrier islands. And even though the plan has shrunk somewhat in scope since its origin, it is “still a very, very ambitious project,” he added.

Taylor said he has told officials in the corps’ top echelon that any property buyouts must be voluntary on the part of the sellers, and any mandatory buyout by the government will not fly. “Given the sensitivities, there was a very high level of concern. They got the message,” he said

When the corps brought its buyout proposal to public meetings in the past, some property owners and public officials feared from comments they heard that citizens may be forced to sell their land to the government. “At least one person at the corps misspoke,” Taylor said. “I want to make it abundantly clear. This is strictly voluntary.”

At this point, the MSCIP is not even funded. “The question mark is, where is the money going to come from?” Taylor said. For the plan to fly, it would need both enabling legislation and funding from Congress, he said.

As things now stand, the MSCIP is a long process.

“I can’t emphasize enough that no one needs to panic,” Taylor said. “The corps does everything very slowly. This could take years.”

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers is proposing to spend about $1.2 billion on Mississippi’s Gulf Coast to buy some 2,000 seaside properties, relocate a small town’s public buildings and restore hurricane-damaged wetlands and beaches.

A draft proposal released Tuesday follows in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, when Bay St. Louis, Waveland and Biloxi were destroyed in 2005 by a storm surge 20 feet or higher over most of this coastline.

The draft of the corps’ 40-year plan will now undergo a series of reviews and face public scrutiny before being presented to Congress, possibly by November.

Unlike efforts in Louisiana, the corps’ plans for Mississippi do not envision enormous levees and flood barriers to protect against future hurricanes. But under the plan, the corps would use $400 million for voluntary buyouts of up to 2,000 parcels of land. The remaining funds would go to restoring fragile barrier islands, reviving eroded marshes and other measures.

In 2007, the corps proposed a buyout plan for up to 17,000 parcels of land, but scaled back those ambitions after encountering opposition from residents fearful that the agency wanted to stunt redevelopment.

U.S. Sen. Roger Wicker, R-Miss., also weighed in Wednesday on the buyout plan.

“This process gives Gulf Coast citizens additional time to provide the corps input on their priorities and concerns related to this much-needed comprehensive plan,” Wicker said. “The federal government still has work to do in order to help Mississippi rebuild the Gulf Coast and restore the barrier islands, and this draft plan moves us one step closer to making that happen.

“I am glad to see that progress is being made on this plan and that the public will have the opportunity to review and comment before the final version is sent to Congress. Public input is critical to allowing Gulf Coast residents to help the corps perfect this preliminary plan.”