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Taken from the EDITORIAL PAGE
Put Dauphin Island
in coastal repair plan

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

DAUPHIN ISLAND should be included in a massive federal program to repair hurricane-damaged coastal islands in the Mississippi Sound.

Congress has approved a billion-dollar program for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to repair Mississippi's shoreline and its coastal islands of Horn, Ship and Petit Bois to fight further erosion. Inexplicably, the program stops at the Mississippi state line.

Ecologically, it doesn't make a lick of sense to limit the program to political boundaries. Dauphin Island helps protect a portion of the Mississippi Sound as well as Alabama's coast.

Hurricane Katrina cut through the island's western end in 2005, letting salt water intrude into and threaten the Alabama portion of the Mississippi Sound. That endangered the production of oysters, shrimp and other sea life, and left the Alabama coast with diminished protection from storms.

Dauphin Island Mayor Jeff Collier wrote in a letter to Gov. Bob Riley that the residents of the island "are baffled as to why Mobile County was omitted from that study given the severity of the Hurricane Katrina impacts in Alabama." We're baffled, too.

Gov. Riley can help by encouraging Alabama's congressional delegation to push for Alabama's inclusion in the program.

Ironically, the Corps of Engineers' plan suggests dredging sand from the lower Tombigbee River in Alabama, and transporting it past Dauphin Island to the Mississippi coastal island of Pet it Bois. That adds salt to the wound of neglect.

The agency's office in Mobile, which is spearheading the plan, says adding Dauphin Island would slow down the project. But Dauphin Island leaders are convinced there's still time because much of the planning has yet to be completed.

Indeed, it appears the Corps of Engineers should have taken an ecosystem approach from the beginning, rather than arbitrarily leaving Alabama out. The ecological damage in Alabama from Katrina seems just as significant as that which occurred in Mississippi.

The U.S. Geological Survey says the Alabama-Mississippi chain of barrier islands is eroding from a rising sea level, more intense and frequent storms, and a lack of sand supply from dredging of nearby ship channels. The sand from the shipping channels would naturally replenish the islands as waves wash to the shores if the dredging weren't done. The Corps of Engineers plans to haul sand onto the barrier islands to fill slashes cut through by storms and build up eroded beaches.

Because of the erosion, the barrier islands - including Dauphin Island - absorb less of the impact when storms crash out of the Gulf of Mexico and strike the Alabama and Mississippi coasts. The diminished islands also are less able to protect the natural estuaries in the Sound.

Now, though, only Gov. Riley and the state's congressional delegation can pry open the legislation and get Dauphin Island into the program. They should get started right away.

Fort Gaines Sand Island Light House Shell Mounds on Dauphin Island Dauphin Island History Dauphin Island Sea Lab Estuarium

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