News Column

Ocean Expo looks unlikely for D'Iberville

June 22, 2014

By Mary Perez, The Sun Herald

June 22--D'IBERVILLE -- It's been 2 1/2 years since ground was broken for Ocean Expo along Interstate 10 in D'Iberville but the aquarium is no closer to being built there.

Moby Solangi, president of Institute for Marine Mammal Studies, told the city in January he was having an acoustic study done to determine if the proximity to the roads under construction along the site would hurt the dolphins. Solangi said he would let the city know by February if the property was still suitable for the aquarium.

The study of noise levels has taken longer then expected as they waited for the exact placement of the new roads, Solangi said. He now expects the study will be complete within a month.

He admits he's been looking at other sites.

"As for any good business, we have to have a contingency plan," he said.

When the contract between the city and IMMS expired in 2013, the D'Iberville City Council gave Solangi a deadline of March to start construction of Ocean Expo or abandon plans for the site.

City Manager Bobby Eleuterius said the city has heard "not one word" from Solangi.

Meanwhile, D'Iberville taxpayers covered the first payment of $318,668 of a $4 million special-obligation bond issued to cover part of the $9.5 million cost of the 8 1/2 acres the city purchased for Ocean Expo.

Another payment of $321,668 is due in September. A surcharge on the ticket price for Ocean Expo was supposed to repay the bond.

Even if Ocean Expo isn't built there, city officials say the site is valuable, right next to the proposed Gulf Coast Galleria shopping mall.

Ocean Expo was proposed as a $75 million aquarium Solangi said could attract a million visitors a year -- about the number who visit the Aquarium of the Americas and Audubon Insectarium in New Orleans annually.

Solangi said he has $13 million to $14 million in grants for its construction. IMMS also has four dolphins and four sea lions at its Gulfport facility and he said, "We're going to get more sea lions."

Court ruling for sea lions

In April 2011, IMMS sued the National Marine Fisheries Service and other federal agencies over its application to get California sea lions.

On May 23, Louis Guirola Jr., chief U.S. District Judge in Gulfport, ruled the permit issued in 2011, which authorized IMMS to acquire eight California sea lions, has language that discriminated against IMMS.

As a result of the ruling, Solangi said, he expects IMMS will get eight "releasable" sea lions during the next fie years. The four sea lions IMMS received last year were considered non-releasable because of a large stranding in California. He said they have been trained for public shows.

His permit was filed for sea lions that could be released back into the wild. "As far as we were concerned, we wanted healthy animals," he said.

On Thursday, IMMS' attorneys filed a motion asking for a deadline for the Marine Fisheries Service to amend the terms of the permit, and directing the agency to pay IMMS' attorney fees of $72,417.


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Source: Sun Herald (Biloxi, MS)

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