The settlement creates a panel of four experts to study the corps' role in the island's erosion problem and recommend a remedy. The study could result in a project costing $7.6 million -- or more, if congressional funding is secured -- to restore the island's vastly eroded beaches.
The lawsuit settlement is seen as the island's best hope for beach restoration, since the island Property Owners Association announced last month that legal complications had stymied efforts to hand over 3½ miles of privately owned west-end beach to a public entity that could secure federal funds for beach restoration.
The private, nonprofit property owners' association is ineligible for such public restoration money.
"The settlement doesn't solve all our problems, but it's very helpful," said John Reed, association president. "Clearly, $7 million isn't enough to build the sort of engineered beach that is possible through public funds, so we need to try to keep working in that direction."
After Hurricane Katrina left most of the association's west-end beach under water, Reed led an effort to transfer the land to the town of Dauphin Island, Mobile County or some other public entity.
Last week, the association's lawyer informed board members that the land's deed prohibited the beach parcel's sale, lease or transfer and even proscribed any use that was not for the exclusive benefit of island property owners.
Reed said the board is seeking a way around the restriction. "Public access remains vitally important" to the board's efforts to secure funding and political support to restore the island's beaches, Reed said.
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