Court dismisses lawsuit blocking construction of Veterans Avenue pier in Biloxi

A Harrison County court dismissed a lawsuit aimed at blocking the construction of a public pier in Biloxi, ruling that the city is within its right to build the pier without a lease from the Secretary of State.

The Secretary of State’s office had sued over a plan by Biloxi and Harrison County to lease the property to RW Development for construction of a municipal pier for public use, claiming that the town needed a tidelands lease, according to the Biloxi’s website. Harrison County Chancery Court Judge Jennifer Schloegel’s ruling on Monday stated that municipal piers and harbors have been built in Biloxi for decades without requiring a tidelands lease.

Another judge in another court came to a similar conclusion months ago in a case involving a proposed lease at the Long Beach harbor.

“This is outstanding news for Biloxi and all the cities and counties along the Mississippi Gulf Coast,” said Biloxi Mayor Andrew Gilich. “This is about public access and enjoyment of the waterfront, and the cities and counties have been building piers, harbors and other amenities on the waterfront for more than a hundred years.”

A public pier had been at the Veterans Avenue site for years before being destroyed by Hurricane Katrina in 2005.

RW Development, owned by former NBA’s New Orleans Hornets Ray Wooldridge, plans to finalize the design of the pier and begin the permitting process with the Mississippi Department of Marine Resources. The terms of the lease between RW and the city and county states that the company is responsible for constructing and maintaining the public pier.

“We knew what we were doing was within our rights, and now it’s time to move forward,” Gilich said.

Secretary of State Michael Watson issued a press release on Thursday expressing his disappointment in the decision and that he has filed an appeal with the state Supreme Court.

“I am disappointed in the recent ruling and on Tuesday filed an appeal requesting a review of this decision before the Mississippi Supreme Court,” Watson said in the press release. “I grew up on the Coast, want to see it prosper as much as anyone, and offered a rent-exempt lease for this project that was rejected.”

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