THE TOWN of Dauphin Island has taken another critical step toward saving the rapidly disappearing west end of the barrier island.
With the hiring of Scott Douglass, a noted coastal engineer and professor at the University of South Alabama, town officials have staked the
island's future on the development of a comprehensive plan to control and offset beach-destroying erosion.
Dr. Douglass, the author of a book titled "Saving America's Beaches: The Causes of and Solutions to Beach Erosion," will study the island's
erosion problem and recommend solutions. He also will have the crucial task of estimating the cost of saving the beaches and suggesting
possible sources of funding to cover that cost.
Until recently, Dauphin Island officials had relied on the Federal Emergency Management Agency to fund the application of the engineering
equivalent of a Band-Aid to the devastation on the west end. From 2000 to 2007, FEMA paid $4.5 million for sand berms that provided temporary
protection for homeowners. The berms were swept away by storms, while the sand on the west end continued to disappear at an alarming rate.
Last year Dauphin Island residents turned a corner in dealing with the severe erosion. The Dauphin Island Property Owners Association, which owns
the west end beach, opened it to the public. This was the essential first step in qualifying for state and federal beach renourishment funds.
Beach renourishment has worked well in other coastal areas, but it takes a lot of public money to pay for a large-scale restoration project.
Town officials now recognize they must build their arguments for state and federal aid on issues larger than saving houses on one part of the island.
A key part of the argument for saving Dauphin Island is the value of the tourism it generates for the state. But, even more important, Dauphin Island is
a barrier island - or, to borrow a term from a Mississippi official - it's a "speed bump" that softens the impact of storms on heavily developed coastal areas.
Mississippi's speed bumps - Ship, Horn and Petit Bois islands - are being restored with $439 million in federal funding. U.S. Sen. Roger Wicker, R-Miss.,
makes the point that the restoration of the barrier islands could save taxpayers money in the long run by helping to limit the damage from storm
surges caused by hurricanes.
That is a very good argument for including Dauphin Island, which is part of the same geological chain as the Mississippi barrier islands,
in the federal restoration project.
Dauphin Island officials, First District Congressman Jo Bonner and U.S. Sens. Richard Shelby and Jeff Sessions need to present a united front on the
renourishment issue. Dr. Douglass' work should provide the foundation for a common-sense appeal for federal assistance.