Posted January 1, 2019
The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers has committed $4 million to putting sand from channel dredging work into an area where it could help feed the eroding beaches of Dauphin Island.
Dauphin Island Mayor Jeff Collier said that while the move wasn't a magic cure-all for the health of the barrier island's fragile shores, it definitely was a step in the right direction. "Certainly an effort like this is something we've been pushing for, calling for, for a number of years," he said.
Collier said he'd gotten a call earlier this week from U.S. Rep. Bradley Byrne, who said such a project had been a priority for himself and Sen. Richard Shelby. Byrne said on social media that the funding "will help support the restoration and long-term stability" of the island.
On Wednesday, Corps officials provided some additional detail after the news was announced Tuesday by U.S. Rep. Bradley Byrne. In fiscal 2019, the Corps has allocated about $10 million for maintenance dredging of the Mobile Ship Channel, plus about $2 million for transport and disposal of dredge spoil. E. Patrick Robbins, legislative affairs chief for the Corps' Mobile District, said that's a normal annual expenditure.
But an additional $4 million allocation is new, he said, and so is the area where it'll be placed.
Many people concerned about Dauphin Island maintain that the ship channel cuts off a natural westward flow of replenishing sand along the coast, starving the island's shoreline of sand needed to counteract the impact of waves and storms. They've argued for years that because the Corps maintains the channel it's part of the problem and should take proactive measures to compensate.
The Corps already had established a zone called the Sand Island Beneficial Use Area (SIBUA), where sand from dredge work could be placed in the hope that it would make its way to the beach. Results haven't been impressive, and island advocates such as Collier have argued that the sand needs to be put in shallower water closer to the island.
The debate has risen again as the Corps has considered a plan to deepen the ship channel. The Corps has proposed, and gotten approval for, an expansion of the SIBUA. That means the sand being moved with this $4 million allocation might do more good.
"This is a positive step," said Collier. "This is a good move."
Some big questions remain unanswered. Robbins said that contracts for the work haven't yet been developed, so it's not clear exactly when the work will start, how long it will last or how much sand will be moved into the SIBUA. He speculated that contracts could be executed in summer 2019, allowing work to begin. "We think it's going to be a positive for everybody," he said.
After that, observers will wait to see if the sand actually goes where it's needed. Collier said one issue he's curious about is whether the Corps plans "any follow-up to make that determination."
Another big question: If putting sand in the expanded SIBUA does indeed help replenish the island's beaches, will more such work be incorporated into the ship channel enlargement project?
Collier said he’d like to see that, because he thinks an occasional shot of sand isn’t a long-term fix. He’d like for such handling of dredge spoil “to be incorporated as part of the normal maintenance of the ship channel,” he said.