BILOXI, Miss. -- When thinking about Bay St. Louis, some Mississippians see how things were before Hurricane Katrina; others focus on the wreckage afterwards. But Bay St. Louisians, including new Mayor Les Fillingame, see a town restored of its past, its future redefined by new development.
Fillingame has been fully involved in Bay St. Louis' comeback. Before winning the mayoral seat this summer, he served as the city's recovery coordinator. With former Mayor Eddie Favre, he worked hand in hand with federal and state officials to get funding to restore basic services and infrastructure.
"Bay St. Louis was awarded about $150 million in federal funding to help rebuild," Fillingame said. "Even with this monetary help there were still challenges, like federal guidelines and processes to follow."
Most of the city's infrastructure was destroyed. When finished, 70 percent will be new. A drive through the streets of Bay St. Louis reveals only a few remaining infrastructure construction sites.
"This [infrastructure] has been the longest running, most important project," Fillingame said. "We received invaluable help from FEMA's Public Assistance Program. We had tremendous support from federal and state teams in our efforts. And we haven't missed anything we asked for."
As infrastructure is completed, Community Development Block Grants will be used for new facilities.
Some of them are already springing up in areas where infrastructure is finished. One project, a favorite of Fillingame's, is a firehouse under construction next to city hall. Paid for with Community Development Block Grant and Hazard Mitigation Grant Program funds, the storm-proof building will also serve as the city's emergency operations center.
Infrastructure and government facilities are only part of recovery - or as Fillingame prefers to say - revitalization plans.
The most ambitious project, the mayor says - perhaps holding promise for the biggest impact on the city's future - is the Bay St. Louis Harbor Project. It's slated for construction after Beach Boulevard and the seawall reach completion. The harbor will be situated at the foot of Main Street and is expected to revitalize downtown.
"Fourteen million dollars was awarded by the state this year to pay for the harbor," said MEMA Director Mike Womack. "It's part of our Ground Zero initiative, a series of Katrina recovery projects specifically for Hancock County, which suffered the brunt of the August 2005 storm."
The harbor project, along with a FEMA-funded pier, will feature pleasure craft and commercial boat slips. Transient dockage will also be provided in hopes of drawing day trippers to Bay St. Louis.
"The harbor will be the crown jewel of our revitalization projects," Fillingame said. Work is expected to begin in about nine months; the Bay St. Louis Harbor Project should take 18 months to finish, he added.
About 80 percent of the city's residents who fled Hurricane Katrina have returned. Fillingame feels optimism growing in Bay St. Louis. It's also visible on the faces of those who drive by and wave or even stop to talk as he visits some of the rebuilding projects.
"Retail companies have been testing the waters," Fillingame said. "I expect small business to boom here in 2010."
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