Pearl River County lawmakers intend to put BP grant funds to use now for economic benefit

Published 7:00 am Saturday, September 1, 2018

Senate Bill 2002, which was passed during special session earlier this week, will bring Pearl River County and three others into the 70 percent share of more than $700 million worth of BP oil spill settlement money.

The addition of Pearl River, Stone and George counties was due in part to the work put forth by a committee of local representatives and state senators, including State Senator Angela Hill, State Representative Stacey Wilkes, State Representative John Corley and State Representative Doug McCleod.

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Wilkes said she has been working to gather the information needed to present her case as to why all six coastal counties should be able to receive a majority of that settlement’s money since the regular session ended earlier this year.

That process began after she spoke with lawmakers in the three southern-most counties of Hancock, Harrison and Jackson, who felt that they should be the only ones to receive the majority of the settlement.

But Wilkes said that residents in Pearl River County also pay the price of being considered a coastal county, such as higher insurance rates, and also have a number of residents who make a living from the oil industry.

The settlement money will be paid over the course of 15 years, and can only be used for projects that will increase the economic viability of an area. Wilkes said that while that can include roads and bridges,  the focus should be on projects that will increase the ability to generate revenue. That means the money can’t be used to build public facilities such as courthouses and can’t be used to pay off existing debt.

While Wilkes said she has some projects she would like to see done with the money locally, she would like to meet with city and county leaders to form projects everyone can agree on.

“I don’t want to submit projects just to get money, I want to come together as a unified county and put in projects that will provide a return on investment,” Wilkes said.

Hill said she would like to see some upgrades to Picayune’s industrial park, or possibly the establishment of a new industrial park outside the city limits.

In order to receive money from the settlement, each county will have to submit a proposed project to the Mississippi Development Authority, Hill said. The Legislature will have the final say on which projects are approved, Wilkes said.