Big, Bigger or Biggest...but Nothing
for the Now
Impressions from the Shoreline Restoration Meeting,
April 14, 2011
Last night, in the Shelby Building of the Dauphin Island Sea Lab,
University of South Alabama coastal engineer Scott Douglass laid out the
results of the multi-year study he conducted on West End shoreline
The findings were, not surprisingly, the same as those published in a
1978 Corps of Engineers report, which concluded that dredging of the
Mobile Ship Channel is a major factor in erosion of the Gulf-side
shoreline, particularly the down-current beaches on the Gulf-side West
End of the island. One of the solutions involved the Corps dumping
sand closer to the island to help facilitate more accumulation of sand
on the beaches, a solution also proposed in the 1978 Corps report.
It is puzzling that over a million dollars were awarded to Dr. Douglass
to come up with the same findings (and some of the same solutions) put
out over 30 years ago by the Corps itself. Nevertheless, Dr.
Douglass did offer up three high-cost beach reengineering proposals as
part of his deliverables for his seven figure fee.
It was disheartening to see that all three proposed solutions involved
staggering sums. There was the 30 million dollar solution, the 60
million dollar solution and the 70 million dollar solution, which
essentially involving putting sand (proposal 1), more sand (proposal 2)
or a lot more sand (proposal 3) on the beach. Since
the odds of procuring grants of that magnitude are weak at best, some of
us in attendance would have appreciated other possible measures, such as
2, 5 and 10 million dollar solutions.
One option that was proposed by a future Task Force member at a previous
Douglass presentation on the island in the summer of 2008
- the same option which was brought up by Dr.
Douglass himself in a meeting with the Task Force in February 2010
- was to create rock jetties at various
locations, particularly one just east of the Katrina Cut. This
might have been one of those single digit million dollar solutions that
would have helped sand accumulate on the far West End beaches. But
this option was not presented at all in the meeting last night.
Some attendees came away from the meeting with the feeling that perhaps
only high dollar solutions were presented as a means to discourage those
who seek restoration on the West End, knowing that funds in those
amounts will be hard to come by. It is no secret that some
islanders would like to see the entire West End washed away, or at least
abandoned entirely by homeowners, so as to reduce or eliminate the "headache"
that comes with servicing and preserving the fragile West End
As for the revenue that West End rental houses
generate for the Town of Dauphin Island, one islander has said that just
one condo complex could replace the tax revenue lost from all those West End
houses if they were destroyed by a hurricane, or seized and razed as
a result of eminent domain. Such a statement, while
insensitive to island lovers and homeowners on the West End, is also
inaccurate since it ignores several factors. It fails
to acknowledge that visitors who rent the West End houses don't want to
vacation in a condo. They want to stay in a little beach house
which gives them more of a sense of privacy, solitude, quiet or feeling
like it's truly a home away from home. This is part of the reason
they choose the quiet beach and fishing village atmosphere of Dauphin
Island over the crowded condo-kingdom of Gulf Shores.
The statement also fails to recognize the ancillary industries affected
- construction and repair work for builders,
plumbers, electricians, and other building related services; people who make a living cleaning
the rental houses; and demand for on-the-spot shopping at local
businesses and restaurants which are frequented as much or more so by
guests than by residents.
Building one condo complex to replace all those houses would slash the
demand for those services exponentially.
Finally, the footprint of one condo complex would not generate the level
of property taxes reaped from hundreds of West End homes, nor the
revenues generated by renters since, again, many choose Dauphin Island
for the private, one-family houses right on the beach, rather than a
more public-feeling, multi-tenant high-rise which requires an elevator ride (and
maybe also a crossover of the road) to get to the water.
So at the meeting last night, we were presented with shoot-for-the-moon proposals (which we
certainly hope can be achieved of course) but no solutions for the
interim. Nothing that could be more realistically achieved in the
Ironically, one of the proposals offered by the Task Force last year was
a single-digit million dollar project to build berm-like dune structures
just north of the existing shoreline, as a short-term measure (if
nothing else) to help protect the public beach, homes and infrastructure
which were being eroded weekly by the savage winter storms of late fall
2009 through winter 2010. Even though the money proposed to fund
the project was from a non-taxpayer-funded source (CIAP oil and gas
royalties), the idea was not pursued by the Town.
But "miraculously," the berms materialized in May 2010
after the BP Oil Spill. FOR FREE. No cost to the Town or its
Then astoundingly, the berms were removed six months later, right as we
were headed into winter 2011 when more winter storms may have again
threatened the shoreline. BP paid for the berms, but rather than
leave them there to protect the area, apparently they were removed with
no protest from (or at the request of ?) the Town. It remains a mystery as to why.
Some say it was to make access to the water easier for the spring
tourist season. But surely openings could have been created in the
berms for access. Or we could have asked BP to merely bulldoze the
sand down and spread it out, creating something of a widened beach. Or we could have
allowed people to walk over the berms at any point they desired (without
fines), and thereby punch down the dunes over time. Anything would
have been a better solution over simply removing all that sand which
would have eventually leveled out and helped to bring back some of the
This would have been a free solution which would have
achieved at least some measure of what was proposed in Dr. Douglass'
presentation last night. The Douglass solutions in the tens of
millions of dollars will have to come from some other source, most
likely taxpayer-funded grants rather than free from BP. In the current
economic climate, it does not look promising.
So we are back to square one, with no somewhat-more-affordable solutions on the
table. And nothing for the now.
It remains to be seen if the Town will actively pursue funding for any
of the high-dollar proposals offered by Dr. Douglass.
1978 Corps of