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Taken from the Editorial page
Shouldn't Uncle Sam Help Dauphin Island?
Monday, September 28, 2009

IT'S UNDERSTANDABLE that some Dauphin Island residents feel they aren't getting a fair shake from the federal government in a proposed settlement of a lawsuit over beach erosion.

The Dauphin Island Property Owners Association filed the suit nine years ago, seeking compensation for erosion the group blames on dredging by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers in the Mobile Ship Channel. In the proposed settlement, the federal government offered to contribute $1.4 million to the restoration of the island's beaches. The state of Alabama would kick in $60,000.

Some island residents are unhappy because the settlement would protect the federal and state governments from any past and future claims arising from the dredging.

Dauphin Islanders know that $1.4 million won't even pay for a good-sized sand pile. The Federal Emergency Management Agency spent $4 million building sand berms to protect the west end of the island. These berms were breached or washed away by minor as well as major storms, leaving houses on the west end exposed to the damaging waves.

Dauphin Island residents don't have to look far to see how Uncle Sam spends money when he's really interested in saving endangered islands. Just across the state line, the federal government is preparing to spend $439 million restoring Mississippi's barrier islands. Congress authorized the massive restoration program in June. The Corps of Engineers will use about 22 million cubic yards of sand to build up Ship, Horn and Petit Bois islands.

Dauphin Island is part of the same chain of barrier islands. It serves the same important purpose - cushioning the impact of hurricanes on heavily developed coastal areas - that was a key justification for the Mississippi project.

Yet Alabama's barrier island isn't getting one thin dime from Washington - except, maybe, the $1.4 million settlement of the lawsuit. The lawsuit's claims were undermined by a scientific study that said the dredging in the Mobile Ship Channel didn't cause the erosion. But some experts, including Scott Douglass, a coastal engineer at the University of South Alabama, reject the study's conclusions. "If more sand comes in than leaves, you have widening beaches," he wrote in a column published by the Press-Register. "But if less sand comes in than leaves, your beaches will erode. The dredging is like a continuing series of large withdrawals from your checking account."

We'll leave it to the experts to debate the causes of the erosion that's destroying the western end of Dauphin Island. But it's hard for us to understand why, if the federal government thinks the Mississippi barrier islands are worth restoring, Dauphin Island counts for nothing in this grand scheme.

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