WLOX-TV Biloxi

Hyde-Smith advocates cutting regulations to help rebuild after Zeta in meeting with mayors

By Mike Lacy

BILOXI, Miss. (WLOX) - U.S. Sen. Cindy Hyde-Smith took time away from her campaigning for a listening tour in Biloxi. She spoke with four Harrison County mayors on how to rebuild after Hurricane Zeta.

While a handful of recovery issues were discussed, the main topic for everyone at the meeting can be summarized in one word: regulations.

Most of the mayors haven’t left their borders since Hurricane Zeta ripped through the Coast, and while they are hoping for some federal relief, it was a relief just to talk.

“We’ve got a totally destroyed harbor in Long Beach.” said Long Beach Mayor George Bass.

Pass Christian Mayor Chipper McDermott also added “You can build a building back, but these oak trees are 200 to 300 years-old that are just wrecked.”

Hyde-Smith got an uncensored introduction to not only the damage, but also what mayors need from the federal government to make recovery quicker and last longer.

“The devastation we are seeing, we want her to see it first hand and be able to report back,” said Gulfport Mayor Billy Hewes. “So, when she’s advocating for us for relief for FEMA funds, for support and any changes to regulations if we run into problems, that she’s able to speak about it first-hand."”

While the obvious destruction and immediate cleanup that follows are high concerns, the biggest issue is with federal regulations that allow rebuilding, but not to a more superior level.

For example: Biloxi’s Lighthouse Pier. It has just been repaired many times to original specifications as required by FEMA.

And now, it’s back to square one again.

“It is frustrating,” said Biloxi Mayor FoFo Gilich. “As a matter of fact, we re-engaged a contractor to save those sections, because as we rebuild, that wood is more expensive than you can imagine now. What is really devastating is to face those regulations that you will be thrown as you put it back together. We don’t want to have to rebuild it again.”

Neither does Bass.

“We need regulations to be loosened to where we can get funds and marry different funds on a federal level,” said Bass. “It hasn’t been allowed before to be able to go back and rebuild this thing stronger.”

It was a constant theme that Hyde-Smith knows well.

“We are so strangled with regulations, when it comes to being able to replace, repair, rebuild,” said Hyde-Smith. “And that’s one of the things that I want to concentrate on, is to make sure we have more flexibility.”

Hyde-Smith also added that although President Trump has already approved a disaster declaration, she would make sure the Coast received all the federal money it needed for recovery.