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Taken from the Mobile news
Dauphin Island property owners
speak out against new berm proposal

By KATHERINE SAYRE, Staff Reporter
Thursday May 14, 2009

DAUPHIN ISLAND - Gulf-front property owners, fearing blocked access to the west end's main road and damage to the island's economy, expressed concern Wednesday about a proposal to build a sand berm along Bienville Boulevard.

"I have to tell you, you're breaking my heart," said Lisa Oriente, a west end property owner who said she traveled from Canada to attend Wednesday's public hearing. "This is putting basically a wall between me and everyone else on the other side. ... To me, it's nonsense."

The Town Council is considering a proposal to build a sand berm along the south edge of Bienville Boulevard in an effort to prevent storm-driven waves from damaging the paved road.

If constructed, the berm would also limit access to side streets and houses on the Gulfside. A gravel service road connecting to Bienville Boulevard would likely be built south of the berm to provide an alternate route for south-side property owners, officials have said.

About 150 people attended the meeting. For at least one hour of public comments, no one spoke in favor of the proposal.

Hurricane Gustav last year wiped out a $3.6 million berm that was built on three miles of the west end beach, south of the last line of houses facing the Gulf of Mexico. The Federal Emergency Management Agency decided against rebuilding the berm in the same location, claiming the beach was too eroded to replace it. Sections of the west end beach, including entire lots, have eroded away in recent years.

Now, the city is considering asking FEMA to fund a Bienville Boulevard berm. The council could vote as soon as Tuesday on the issue. FEMA would make the final decision.

Town officials have said that if something isn't done to protect the road, which is often damaged during hurricanes, the town might not receive federal funding to repair it after future disasters.

Some residents whose homes lie south of Bienville Boulevard said Wednesday that they're concerned about dropping property values, the potential for more flooding and erosion to their lots, and a loss of income to the town.

"We've got to stop and think about what we're doing," said Zack Ashbee, whose family owns a Gulfside house. "Once this ball gets rolling, it's not going to stop."

Several council members said the town is working toward beach renourishment as a more long-term solution. One council member called the proposed berm "a Band-Aid."

"That's really what's needed - to do something that's more long-lasting," said Mayor Jeff Collier. "The town is working feverishly on that."

No design or cost estimates have been developed for the proposed berm. If approved, it would be paid for with 75 percent federal funds, 10 percent state funds, and 15 percent by the town, Collier said.

The first berm on the island was built in 2000 with a $1 million price tag. It washed away two years later during Tropical Storm Isidore.

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