Northrop Grumman still interested in Singing River Island

Published 6:23 pm Tuesday, December 4, 2007

Northrop Grumman remains the primary suitor for Singing River Island, but the local governing authority and defense contractor haven’t worked out a lease.

“I think it is coming really soon,” said Den Knecht, chairman of the Naval Station Pascagoula Local Redevelopment Authority. “There are a lot of details to be worked out.”

Earlier, Secretary of State-elect Delbert Hosemann said the state and Northrop Grumman are working on a short-term lease for the island. He said the state, which owns the island through the secretary of state’s office, wants to do an in-depth study of the facilities on the island to determine their best use during the short-term lease.

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Northrop Grumman Ship Systems, which already has a major presence in Pascagoula with its Ingalls Shipyard, has expressed an interest in expanding onto the nearby island.

Also, the Jackson County Board of Supervisors supported a number of grant applications made through the Port of Pascagoula Authority and the Jackson County Economic Development Foundation.

Mark McAndrews, chairman of the Port Authority, and George Freeland, executive director of the Economic Development Foundation, said they were looking for ways to reduce the maintenance costs on the island in the event Northrop Grumman signed a lease.

First year maintenance costs for the island’s facilities are estimated at $5 million, with maintenance costs over five years estimated at close to $20 million.

Knecht said there was not any one reason that was causing a delay in Northrop Grumman and the state working out a lease agreement.

Singing River Island is a man-made island composed of dredged soils from the Pascagoula River. The 437-acre island is connected to the West Bank by a bridge.

The island was leased by the Navy in 1985 as a home port. The lease terms stated that if the Navy was to abandon the home port, the island would revert to state control.

The Navy formally closed the home port in November 2006. After making repairs to several facilities on the island, the Navy turned the island over to Mississippi last June.

The Naval Station includes about 187 acres and 35 structures, ranging from a two-story administrative building to a guard shack and barracks that housed Navy personnel during the 14 years the island was used as a home port.

Northrop officials have said that a pier that was used by Navy vessels on the island is especially attractive to the shipbuilding company because it is shielded from the high seas and storm surge that battered Northrop vessels during Hurricane Katrina.

About 100 acres of the island are wetlands, which leaves about 150 acres of land that can be developed on the island.

The FBI and NOAA operate temporary offices on the island, but plan to move back to Pascagoula once offices there are renovated.

The Coast Guard expects to be a permanent tenant on the island. In addition to a local search and rescue group, the Coast Guard home-ports three deepwater cutters.