Coast's Infrastructure Still Hobbling - - Jackson, MS

Biloxi 08/23/06

Coast's Infrastructure Still Hobbling

By Wilson Stribling

Up and down the Mississippi Gulf Coast, there are obvious signs of both progress and strain.

In Biloxi, huge pumps hum loudly just across Highway 90 from the Gulf of Mexico. They are not much to look at, but the loud machinery is keeping the Coast sanitary. 

There are more than a dozen of the pumps along Highway 90, pumping wastewater away from homes and businesses and on the treatment plants. They've been here for years, but Katrina knocked them out.

"Every one of them was destroyed," says Biloxi Mayor A.J. Holloway. He says some of the pumps had been completely re-built right before Katrina hit.

"We got them pieced back together," he says, "and we run them by generators, and that's costing us a lot of money. We have to fill them up with diesel three or four times a day."

Such is life one year later for some of the more mundane -- yet essential -- aspects of running a city.

Most of the debris you could see is gone. But underground, the pipes are still filled with it.

"Oh, just everything," Holloway says. "Wood, seaweed from the island, marsh grass -- just all kinds of debris from broken-up houses."

Biloxi lost its two vacuum trucks in the storm, so all that trash is still down there -- and it creates a backup and minor flooding every time there's so much as a mild shower.

All four lanes of Highway 90 are back open, until you get the major bridges. The one from Biloxi over to Ocean Springs is still in pieces, with most work taking place on the approach.

A new bridge won't see traffic until a year from now. That's frustrating for a mayor who daily watches trains cross the railroad bridge, which was rebuilt quickly after Katrina destroyed it.

"They didn't mess around," Holloway says, referring to the CSX railroad. "They came in and changed everything out and put all new cross-ties in all over. They had crews working all over."

Holloway says Highway 90 still needs to be completely rebuilt through his city, so the water and sewer lines beneath it can be replaced.

Almost all the street signs and traffic lights have been replaced, with some exceptions. On Highway 90 in front of the old Broadwater Beach Resort, the yellow remnants of a single traffic light dangle from the wires. The light has not been repaired, because the Broadwater was almost completely destroyed. It is now being torn down to make way for something new.

The sight of something once so vital is striking -- and not uncommon along a stretch of paradise that's still having to improvise just to get through the day.

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