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MOBILE REGISTER
Taken from the Mobile Metro News pages
Dauphin Island hires
coastal engineer to find ways
to preserve coastline

By KATHERINE SAYRE, Staff Reporter
Wednesday, August 19, 2009

DAUPHIN ISLAND, Ala. -- The Town of Dauphin Island has hired well-known coastal engineer Scott Douglass to recommend how to restore the island's eroded beaches along the Gulf of Mexico and to suggest ways to pay for the work.

Mayor Jeff Collier said that Douglass' report, expected this fall, should help advance efforts of the past two years to rebuild the barrier island, which has lost hundreds of feet from erosion in recent decades.

"The island needs a unified voice so that we are all on the same page," the mayor said.

The Town Council agreed to pay Douglass up to $29,970 to "explain the island's erosion problems along the southern shoreline, the available engineering and management solutions, including rough cost estimates ... and the available external funding mechanisms," according to the contract.

Barrier islands naturally change shape and move as sand travels east-to-west with the coastal waves. But a recent U.S. Geological Survey report found that the Mississippi-Alabama chain of barrier islands -- including Dauphin Island -- are disappearing because of higher sea levels, more frequent and intense storms, and a lack of sand caused by dredging of nearby ship channels.

Douglass said his work for Dauphin Island is on a private consultant basis. In 2002, the University of South Alabama professor wrote a book titled "Saving America's Beaches: The Causes of and Solutions to Beach Erosion."

Douglass said he'll be looking at all possible solutions for seven miles of Gulf beach on the inhabited portion of the island. "Sand is your problem and sand is probably your solution if you want to live on that western three miles," Douglass said, describing the west end of the island, where some property owners' lots along the Gulf are under water. "The rest of the island will always be there," he said, although pointing out that the east end will have problems "because it's going to want to migrate west."

He said that he plans to meet with state and federal officials and collect all of the recently published scientific data about the island as part of his research.

Beach nourishment projects usually call for large amounts of sand to be added back to the beaches along with erosion-fighting additions such as building dunes or planting vegetation.

Such projects can cost $1 million to $4 million per mile, depending on the scale and where the sand comes from, Douglass said. He said he would give a presentation to the Town Council in late September or early October.

Douglass has long maintained that sand coming from the east falls into the Mobile Ship Channel, where it collects until the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers dredges it up and dumps it offshore. Nearly 10 years ago, the Dauphin Island Property Owners Association filed a lawsuit against the federal government blaming erosion on the dredging. The litigation is close to ending after a proposed settlement was filed in U.S. Court of Federal Claims this month. Under its terms, Dauphin Island property owners would receive $1.5 million from the federal and Alabama governments to help fund beach rebuilding.

A judge must give approval before the settlement is final.

Last year, Hurricane Gustav wiped out a 3-mile protective sand berm along the west end. The berm was designed to block the force of waves during storms in the Gulf. "Hopefully, he will be able to help us," Councilwoman Mary Thompson said of Douglass. "We're going to be in serious trouble if a storm comes through. ... It's not just us that's going to take a hit. It's going to be Bayou La Batre and Coden, because that water is going to come zooming in."

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