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Taken from the Mobile news
Dauphin Island Wants to Join Huge Plan
By KATHERINE SAYRE, Staff Reporter
Tuesday March 31, 2009

Dauphin Island leaders have appealed to Gov. Bob Riley for help incorporating the barrier island into a massive coastal restoration program that has been proposed for the neighboring shoreline in Mississippi.

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers' plan for Mississippi - ordered by Congress in the wake of Hurricane Katrina damage to the coastline - calls for more than a billion dollars in coastal work, including $477 million to rebuild the barrier islands of Horn, Ship and Petit Bois to fight erosion.

Dauphin Island, too, has been eroding away, and leaders there want to be included in the rebuilding. "The arbitrary decision to define the eastern limit of the study as the political boundary separating Alabama and Mississippi ignores the ecosystem approach that should be pursued to thoroughly address the Hurricane Katrina related problems that affect the entire Mississippi Sound barrier island chain, including Dauphin Island," Mayor Jeff Collier wrote to Riley.

"We are baffled as to why Mobile County was omitted from that study, given the severity of the Hurricane Katrina impacts in Alabama," Collier wrote in the March 11 letter.

The letter asks Riley to urge Alabama's congressional delegation to take all necessary steps to include Dauphin Island in rebuilding efforts.

A Riley spokesman said his office is reviewing the request and declined further comment.

A recent U.S. Geological Survey report found that the Mississippi-Alabama chain of barrier islands are eroding rapidly due to sea level rise, more intense and frequent storms and a lack of sand supply from dredging of nearby ship channels.

Barrier islands naturally grow, change shape and move as sand moves westward on the currents. The islands buffer salty waves from the Gulf of Mexico, providing at least some protection to the mainland during storms.

Under the Mississippi plan, barrier islands would be restored by placing 22 million cubic yards of sand into that current-drive sand delivery system, allowing the islands to grow more naturally.

A cut in Ship Island that was slashed by Hurricane Camille in 1969 would be filled in, rejoining the two halves of the islands.

Other parts of the plan call for wetlands restoration and federal buyouts of flood-prone land. Pat Robbins, a spokesman with the Corps of Engineers in Mobile, said Congress only authorized his agency to develop a plan for the three coastal Mississippi counties of Hancock, Harrison, Jackson, and it would require congressional action to make any additions to the plan. "There's no authority for us to look at anything on Dauphin Island," Robbins said. "If you were to add a new element ... obviously it would slow this program down tremendously."

Collier wrote that based on the town's review of the Mississippi plan "and informal discussions with the Corps Project Manager, we are convinced that it is not too late to add Dauphin Island to the Comprehensive Barrier Island Restoration Plan, work on which has not yet begun." The letter points to the plan's suggestions for possible sources of sand for the island rebuilding, including dredging material from the lower Tombigbee River in Alabama. "We find it ironic that the (report) proposes to use sand obtained from sources within Alabama for placement on Petit Bois Island to protect Mississippi's estuarine resources and coastline, while ignoring the similar and equally damaging Hurricane Katrina-created shoreline problems that significantly eroded Dauphin Island, now threaten the estuarine resources of the Alabama portion of the Mississippi Sound, and have exposed Alabama's coastline to increased risk from future storm events," Collier wrote.

Corps officials have said the plan requires further study of some specifics, including looking for other sand sources.

Leaders on Dauphin Island have continued to search for ways to fund rebuilding the several hundred feet of beach on the eastern and western ends that have been lost. Katrina cut a breach in the undeveloped western part of the island, which has grown to be about a mile wide. Many in the local seafood industry say the intrusion of saltwater through the breach threatens the ecosystem that supports oysters, shrimp and other sea life.

The Civil War Preservation Trust this month listed Fort Gaines on Dauphin Island as one of the nation's 10 most endangered Civil War battlefields. Erosion has stripped about 400 feet of land away from the grounds, a landmark in the historic Battle of Mobile Bay in 1864.

The Alabama House of Representatives passed a joint resolution by Rep. Spencer Collier, R-Irvington, last week that urges federal funding for rebuilding of Dauphin Island and inclusion in the Mississippi Coastal Improvements Program.

The draft of the Mississippi plan must be open to public comment and finalized before being passed to Congress for approval, possibly by November, officials have said.

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