Dauphin Island, AL
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Dauphin Island
Government bucking erosion suit…… Islanders claim channel dredging is washing away their property

By BEN RAINES, Staff Reporter
June 25, 2000

The US Army Corps of Engineers' legal barge isn't budging an inch in the face of broadsides by Dauphin Island Property Owners, who contend that corps dredging activity is the direct cause of beach erosion encroaching on the holdings.

Both sides agree a trial, and any possible resolution, will be a long way off.

In March, the property owners sued the federal government, claiming that corps dredging in the Mobile ship Channel has caused massive erosion on Dauphin Island. At the time, US Department of Justice lawyers were ordered to prepare an answer to the case, out lineng the government's position.

Last week, the government provided that answer to Daniel Blackburn, one of the lawyers hired by the Dauphin Island Property Owners Association to pursue the case.

The lawsuit seeks unspecified monetary damages, but similar cases around the country have led to settlements worth $80 million.

According to the lawsuit, the Mobile Ship Channel interrupts the natural flow of sand from east to west. The channel acts as a trap, capturing the sand that normally would flow onto the beaches of Dauphin Island, replenishing them. The corps then dredges that sand and dumps, it two miles offshore.

The government answer reads in part: "All allegations referring to claimed erosive effects of the maintenance of the Mobile Ship Channel by the US Army Corps of Engineers are hereby denied."

It also contains a "partial motion to dismiss" to complaints in the case because federal officials say the US Court of Federal Claims doesn't have jurisdiction over those kinds of matters. One of the contested claims accuses the government of violating the rights of home owners by taking something without providing appropriate compensation. The other charge seeks to force the corps to change its dredging practices.

In a 21-page document, the government opposed allowing the Dauphin Island property owners to file a class-action lawsuit. If the government prevailed on this point, the owners nearly 3,000 in all, would have to join the case as individuals or file separate lawsuits. Blackburn said the government answer is standard legal maneuvering.

Other communities successfully have sued the government using similar arguments. The goal is to prove that the government took private property by inadvertently flooding it, such as when a dam is constructed and land is submerged.

We're still quite a ways from a trial." Blackburn said. "We don't even have a pre-trial scheduled."

After the property owners respond to the government's answer, a pre-trail conference will take place, during which the date and venue of the trial likely would be set.

A federal official involved with the case said a trail will be a long affair, requiring scientific surveys of the beach and expert analysis of the evidence.

The Property Owners have until July 24 to respond to the government's answer.