Close this search box.
Six people hold signs that read "Buy Us Out"
The Cherokee Concerned Citizens in Pascagoula, Miss., are partnering with Anthropocene Alliance to secure nearly $300,000 in federal funding to develop a relocation and restoration plan for the community due to unchecked pollution from local industries. Photo courtesy Anthropocene Alliance

Opinion | Pascagoula Community Uses Federal Grant to Advocate for More Livable Environment

Pascagoula, Miss.—When Barbara Weckesser, 77, moved to Pascagoula, Miss., from Kentucky in the late 1990s, she was hoping to avoid winter altogether and settle into a single-story home that was close to her doctor and the grocery store. She found what she was looking for in the rural town’s Cherokee subdivision, a 120-home community not far from the shore of the Gulf of Mexico.

Pascagoula, a small community of about 22,000, swells during the day as several thousand workers commute to the area for their jobs in the oil industry. In the evenings, the tide of people subsides, which Weckesser appreciates.

But now, she wants out.

“If we didn’t have all the industry throwing all of their gunk over us, we’d be fine,” Weckesser said. “Most of us want to go yesterday.”

Weckesser leads Cherokee Concerned Citizens, a community group advocating for the local government or industry in the area to buy out the subdivision. The Cherokee subdivision includes homes that took on upward of 10 feet of water from Hurricane Katrina in 2005. Residents have rebuilt, but the area remains at high risk for coastal surges, and nearby industry—largely oil-fueled—has caused irreparable harm to the community due to an unchecked flow of pollutants, the organization says.

Members of Cherokee Concerned Citizens have experienced high rates of cancer, respiratory illnesses and heart conditions for years. They’ve also been sounding the alarm to environmental and elected officials.

For Weckesser, the heartbreak she’s seen and experienced after losing neighbors to cancer fuels her long-fought advocacy work, which she describes as a worthy investment of time and passion. She recalls opening her window one day and coming back to find her countertop covered with a layer of black dust. With other partners involved now, her concerns and those of her neighbors have been amplified.

An aerial view of a city along the coastline
“The Cherokee subdivision includes homes that took on upwards of 10 feet of water from Hurricane Katrina in 2005,” Lisa Abelar writes. “Residents have rebuilt, but the area remains at high risk for coastal surges, and nearby industry—largely oil-fueled—has caused irreparable harm to the community due to an unchecked flow of pollutants.” Photo courtesy Cherokee Concerned Citizens

Recently, the organization partnered with advocates like Anthropocene Alliance to secure federal grant funding through the Inflation Reduction Act to study potential solutions. Anthropocene Alliance is an environmental and social justice-focused organization that helps communities fight back against unjust climate and industry-related deterioration to their area.

“We have to fight the battle because no one will give us information and no one will do their job and we’re still living in all the muck and we’re losing our citizens,” Weckesser said. Weckesser’s husband lives with chronic conditions, so access to care is just as vital to her as a cleaner environment. “We’re not exactly sure where we’d go, but we’ll figure that out.”

Anthropocene Alliance is helping Cherokee Concerned Citizens use nearly $300,000 in federal grant funds to develop a relocation and restoration plan for the community. The first-of-its-kind plan aims to improve resilience for the Cherokee community and those beyond that subdivision to restore wetlands, marine and estuarine areas.

“I just know it’s going to help protect the area. By building up the resilience, you’re going to hold the water back instead of having the water rush in,” Weckesser said. “There’s a line of subdivisions that would stand to benefit from this work. We would slow down the impact by putting this community back into greenspace.”

The plan is expected to take two years to develop and will involve multiple partners and input from experts. Scientific surveys of particulate matter, Brown University’s noise study, and tests of the community’s soil, water and overall physical health of residents will also be included.

Weckesser said after years of fighting, she hopes the study will illustrate the benefits of this type of project for her, her neighbors and the people who live in surrounding communities.

“It’s so important to move us out,” she said. “But I started this and I’m going to stay until it’s finished.”

This MFP Voices essay does not necessarily represent the views of the Mississippi Free Press, its staff or board members. To submit an opinion for the MFP Voices section, send up to 1,200 words and sources fact-checking the included information to We welcome a wide variety of viewpoints.

Can you support the Mississippi Free Press?

The Mississippi Free Press is a nonprofit, nonpartisan 501(c)(3) focused on telling stories that center all Mississippians.

With your gift, we can do even more important stories like this one.