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Katrina keeps engineers busy on coast

A passenger bus rolls past empty lots, fragmented house foundations, for-sale signs and a few rebuilt homes July 17 in what used to be the thriving Point Cadet neighborhood of Biloxi, Miss. Although private development along the Gulf Coast has declined, infrastructure improvement projects are booming as the region’s comeback after Hurricane Katrina continues. AP Photo by Rogelio V. Solis

A passenger bus rolls past empty lots, fragmented house foundations, for-sale signs and a few rebuilt homes July 17 in what used to be the thriving Point Cadet neighborhood of Biloxi, Miss. Although private development along the Gulf Coast has declined, infrastructure improvement projects are booming as the region’s comeback after Hurricane Katrina continues. AP Photo by Rogelio V. Solis

Laura Smith
Dolan Media Newswires

Jackson, MI — If good can come from a devastating hurricane, it’s the face-lift the Gulf Coast will have when millions of dollars of infrastructure improvement projects are complete, according to engineers on the coast.
Hurricane Katrina battered Mississippi’s Gulf Coast four years ago, and cities now are using government recovery money to rebuild the region’s infrastructure.

“We’ve been working continuously since the hurricane,” said Brian Fulton, Neel-Schaffer’s engineering manager in the Biloxi, Miss., offices. “We rolled right into debris monitoring in the aftermath and have worked on (Federal Emergency Management Agency) infrastructure repairs in several cities.”

“There’s been a lot of work going on down here. A lot of that’s related to the hurricane. It’s kept us very busy.”

Water, sewer and utility improvements have also been made for northern parts of coastal counties for future growth and expansion, Fulton said.

He noted that there are more engineering firms on the coast as a result as an increase in the workload.

“We’re seeing a lot of interest and participation from contractors,” he said, adding that it’s not uncommon for up to 30 percent of bidders to come from outside the state or outside the coast.

“I think that’s because the other areas are not doing as much work, so everybody’s having to tighten their belts.” he said.

And, work in the private sector has declined, he said.

“Private development has fallen off pretty severely,” Fulton said. “Pre-Katrina we had hundreds of projects with casinos, mixed-use developments. We don’t have that now because the economy is not happening. They’re few and far between.”

Some of the projects under way on the coast that Neel-Schaffer is involved in are the revamping and reconstruction of the Port of Gulfport, the $500 million Gulf Regional Water and Waste Water improvement plan for five lower counties in Mississippi, $350 million to repair Biloxi’s infrastructure and an $80 million infrastructure project in Bay St. Louis.

Fulton said a number of smaller million dollar projects are also in the works.

“Every city has several of those,” Fulton said. “A devastating hurricane has kept money in our field of engineering and construction. It was bad for us four years ago, but there are some good things.”

Scott Burge, an engineer with A. Garner Russell, said the infrastructure work on the coast has kept members of the firm busy.

“The economy here has been strong,” he said. “We’re still very busy with infrastructure-type work going on — those projects under construction right now.”

“We hope that spurs things along until the economy comes back,” Burge said. “If we can get the basic infrastructure repaired, with good utilities, good streets, hopefully, the rest of the economy will follow.”

Burge said an influx of FEMA dollars has helped rebuild and repair water and sewer systems.

His firm has worked on the replacement of water and sewer systems in Long Beach and Pass Christian and the replacement of a water well and Highway 90 in Gulfport.

Additionally, his firm has worked in the Kiel area to replace two elevated water storage tanks and two water systems.

However, in addition to federal money provided to repair roadways and bridges, water systems and utilities, projects have received money to spur downtown revitalization.

“There’s been a lot of money from Community Development Block Grants for individual cities to do downtown revitalization as a result of the storms,” Fulton said.

Fulton said, remarkably, things have been pretty positive on the coast for the past couple of years.

“Every single city and every single county has major projects going on,” he said. “There is a going to be a pretty huge construction effort.”

When completed, the look of the coast will be nearly brand new.

“We hope the work will bridge the gap until the economy turns around,” Fulton said. “There are projects that are going to change the face of the coast, and we hope it’s going to be a better place.”

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