The Federal Emergency Management Agency is considering funding construction of a sand levee
on the west end of Dauphin Island that would border the south side of Bienville Boulevard
and block side roads, officials said this week.
Officials described the project as a levee rather than a sand berm, two of which have
washed away in storms of recent years.
Last year, FEMA decided against rebuilding a protective berm that stretched for three
miles along the west end beach, just south of the last line of houses facing the Gulf of Mexico.
The berm had been leveled by Hurricane Gustav in September. In rejecting the request to
rebuild, federal officials said the west-end beach was too eroded to build the berm
back in the same location.
Kurt Pickering, a FEMA spokesman in Atlanta, said this week that his agency is examining
the proposal for a levee closer to the road.
"We are aware this possibility is on the table and it's being considered," Pickering said,
adding that he does not know when FEMA will make a decision.
He said any details, such as a design or cost estimate, would be developed by the town.
Mayor Jeff Collier said that the project has been called a levee, although he doesn't know
the technical difference between a levee and a berm.
Collier said that the idea of building a levee along Bienville Boulevard was first
suggested in discussions between the Alabama Emergency Management Agency and town officials.
Collier said that the levee would block access to the side streets that lead to the Gulf,
and the town would have to build an alternate route, which could be a gravel service road.
The main goal is to protect the paved road and other infrastructure such as the water and
sewer lines, he said.
If nothing is done, the town might not receive federal or state funding to fix
Bienville Boulevard after future storms, he said.
"With this information on the table, we were forced to seriously consider the proposal
while looking for ways to mitigate the inconveniences it would bring to those who own
property south of Bienville Boulevard," Collier wrote in an e-mail to property owners and
residents Thursday. "Maintaining vehicular access on the south side of the levee is
of high importance but comes with a variety of challenges."
The town will hold a public meeting May 13 to present the details of options for the west end.
Town leaders will meet with Alabama Emergency Management Agency next week to gather more
details, he said.
The berm destroyed by Gustav was built in 2007 at a cost of $3.6 million. The first berm
on the island was built in 2000 for $1 million. It was destroyed two years later by
Tropical Storm Isidore.
The area known as the west end is a long stretch of sand lined with houses elevated
on stilts. It has been eroding away, and some lots are under water.
Barrier islands naturally grow, change shape and migrate, fed by the sand moving west on
the currents. Federal scientists have said the Alabama-Mississippi chain of barrier islands,
including Dauphin Island, are eroding rapidly because of sea level rise, more frequent
storms and a lack of sand.
Russell Voisin, who owns a house south of Bienville Boulevard on St. Denis Court,
said he is concerned about the possibility of being blocked off from the west end's main
road by a levee. He said a better alternative would be to undertake a beach rebuilding
project to restore the island.
Town officials have been lobbying to include Dauphin Island in a federal proposal to
rebuild neighboring Mississippi's barrier islands using about $477 million.
"To think that there would be a barrier that would prevent access to literally
hundreds of beach houses ... the idea is unconscionable," Voisin said.
"It would probably destroy the rental property business on the island, which
brings a substantial amount of income to the town."