Dauphin Island, AL
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Fate of West End In Court Today
By KATHERINE SAYRE
December 15, 2008
A legal battle over whether Dauphin Island's privately
owned beach on the west end should become public is slated to be argued
in a Mobile courtroom today.
The Dauphin Island Property Owners Association has held a stretch of beach
on the barrier island's west end since 1954. Members of the association
last year voted to transfer ownership to the Town of Dauphin Island, which
would open the beach to the public. Proponents argued that the heavily
eroded beach needs to be public to receive federal funds for rebuilding.
But two private landowners filed a lawsuit in Mobile County Circuit Court
last year to block the move. The lawsuit claims the valuable waterfront
property should be kept in private hands as required by the original deed
given to the Property Owners Association in 1954. After several delays
in court, the case is scheduled to heard in Judge Charles Graddick's courtroom
Barrier islands naturally move, erode and grow, fed by sand on the westward
currents in the Gulf of Mexico. Federal scientists, though, have said
that barrier islands in Mississippi and Alabama are rapidly disintegrating
because of sea level rise, more intense and frequent storms and a lack
The case is a key part of an ongoing struggle by some Dauphin Island leaders
to rebuild the island's beaches. The pricey task of bringing more sand
to the beaches would likely cost millions of dollars, officials have said,
and only a town-owned beach would be eligible for federal funding.
The lawsuit, though, argues that the condition of the west end beach isn't
that bad and sand has been accumulating in areas.
"Plaintiffs assert that the subject beach is not underwater, and otherwise
inaccessible ... and has, in fact, regenerated naturally and substantially
since the last hurricane, Katrina," the 2007 lawsuit states.
Jim Hartman, one of the property owners who filed the lawsuit, declined
to comment last week.
The lawsuit refers to the original land deed which requires that property
be "kept and maintained forever as a recreational area for the exclusive
use and enjoyment" of the Property Owners Association.
The state of Alabama owns the beach up to the mean high tide line. The
beach from that line up to the home lots has been considered private for
decades. Much of it is eroded and some lots are submerged under water.
In a letter to members last year, some association members argued that
the beach can't be maintained or enjoyed if it continues to erode, and
only the town could use public money to save it, according to court documents.
Bill Harper, Property Owners Association president, couldn't be reached
for comment last week. An attorney for the association said its members
were ready to go to trial; he declined further comment.
Erosion problems have continued to plague the island since the lawsuit
was filed. Waves from Hurricane Gustav on Sept. 1 destroyed a three-mile
protective sand berm on the west end, followed by more damage to the beach
from Hurricane Ike on Sept. 13. Federal officials denied a request by
the town to rebuild the berm because parts of the beach were completely
wiped out by the storms, leaving no land on which to build.