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Only two of six local Gulf Coast Restoration project proposals scored higher than 10 of 40

Of the six total projects submitted by the Board of Supervisors and city of Picayune for funding from the Gulf Coast Restoration Fund, only two scored higher than a 10; both were submitted by the Board of Supervisors.

The three projects submitted by the city of Picayune include construction of a roundabout at the entrance of the shopping center along Ridge Road, renovations to Friendship Park and construction of a frontage road along East Jerusalem Road to create access to property owned by Resurrection Life Church for the proposed creation of a commercial area.

According to information posted on the Mississippi Development Authority’s website, the Ridge Road project scored a 2, proposed improvements to Friendship Park received a score of 2 and the East Jerusalem project scored a 1.

Projects submitted by the Board of Supervisors included improvements to Ridge Road to connect it to Highway 607, creation of hangar space at the Poplarville Airport through a partnership with Pearl River Community College to establish a flight aviation school and the purchase and development of more than 300 acres in Carriere near Interstate 59 to create a mixed use industrial area called Horizon Business Park.

The Ridge Road project received a score of 1, while the aviation school project received a score of 13. Horizon Business Park received a score of 10, according to MDA.

Pearl River County Economic Development Director Blaine LaFontaine said that of the 77 projects submitted by various entities in the state this year, only 14 scored higher than a 10 out of a possible 40 points.

LaFontaine said he was asked to work with the county engineer and members of the Pearl River County Economic Development District flesh out this year’s submissions, which were the same as those submitted by the county last year. However the process this year answered questions posed by MDA last year and provided more information on those projects.

LaFontaine said he was not asked by the city of Picayune’s administration to provide similar assistance for those projects.

When asked why LaFontaine was not asked to assist the city with those projects, Picayune City Manager Jim Luke said he could not say why LaFontaine was not asked to help. He added that he could not recall if LaFontaine was employed in his current capacity at that time nor if the city was contributing to LaFontaine’s pay.

Previous coverage states LaFontaine was hired in December of 2019, and Picayune’s City Council approved a motion to begin contributing to LaFontaine’s pay in February of 2020. Luke said he does intend to ask for LaFontaine’s involvement in the development of any projects submitted this year. All projects had to be submitted to MDA for review by August of 2020.

Luke said the projects submitted by the city were reviewed and approved by the Council, but could not recall who specifically made the proposals. He recalled the roundabout at Ridge Road being supported by Councilor Wayne Gouguet, and that construction of the East Jerusalem Road project was “discussed” with city administrators and members of Resurrection Life Church. Friendship Park was added to the list due to complaints from the public and Parks and Recreation Director Trevor Adam, Luke said.

Projects submitted were scored based on several criteria, LaFontaine said, specifically whether that project will help grow the job base, payroll tax and also build on ad valorem taxes.

Additionally, any projects that may help build the workforce by adding jobs that require highly skilled or talented people received higher scores.

MDA and an Advisory Board comprised of appointees from the state’s Governor, Lt. Governor and speaker gives those projects scores before they are sent to the Legislature for final review and approval during the upcoming session.

LaFontaine said he does not expect to know whether any projects are approved until at least March and that even though some projects received low scores, they are not out of the running.

City Councilor Wayne Gouguet said that while he supported sending the roundabout at Ridge Road as one of the city’s projects, he feels future submissions need to better meet the criteria of producing more jobs.

“Up to this point we have not done that in the past two years,” Gouguet said.

While retail jobs have been discussed, Gouguet said that the focus should be on higher paying jobs first, such as a warehouse or manufacturing company. If the city can bring in a new company that requires a skill set not currently offered, the increase in high paying jobs will trickle down to more jobs in the retail sector. If training for those skilled jobs is required, Gouguet said the city has an opportunity to partner with PRCC to meet that need.