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Q&A: Long Term Plan - The Great Unknown

Are efforts toward an interim solution interfering with the long term plan?

This is one of the most puzzling questions we get.  Let's examine the facts, outlined below in a Q&A format.

What is the long term plan for shoreline restoration?

There is no specific long term "plan" or "solution" currently underway.  There is a study underway at present for the East End only, conducted by Dr. Scott Douglass (Univ. of South Alabama).

After the East End Study, another study will be conducted for large-scale shoreline restoration for the entire island.  As of February 2010, the long term study had not yet begun.  Dr. Douglass will be paid $1.9 million by the Town to conduct this study of shoreline erosion and consider possible long term solutions.  He has stated that, at the end of the study, he will offer several options to the Town on what to do about shoreline erosion.

What will the options be?

We do not know what options Dr. Douglass will recommend to the Town.  Even if one of the options presented is for a major shoreline restoration project -- and even if that option includes restoring the West End, including the land south of Bienville Blvd -- we don't know (a) if the Town will pursue that option or (b) when funding could be procured for a project of that magnitude.

When could a long-term restoration project get underway?

This is another unknown.  Dr. Douglass has stated that the long term study will take 18-24 months to complete.  Assuming the study begins soon, that still puts us sometime into 2011 or later before the study is finished, .  Assuming the Town decides to pursue a major restoration effort, funding would have to first be identified, and it may take some time to procure the funding necessary.  Requests for major funding generally must be made a year or more in advance of funds distribution.  That will likely put us into 2012 or beyond before a major shoreline restoration project could get underway or completed.  That's two hurricane seasons away.  We certainly hope that a project could be undertaken before then, but we are trying to be realistic, considering the length of the study and the lead time required for funding requests.

Why don't you wait for the long term study to be completed?

We could do nothing between now and the completion of the study, which is up to 2 years away by Dr. Douglass' own reckoning.  We could do nothing between now and the completion of a major shoreline restoration project, which could be a year or several years beyond that, assuming the Town will even choose this option when the study is complete.  The Town may choose to not save the West End, or the land south of Bienville, at all.  We just don't know.

Meanwhile, we will continue to lose more land on the south shoreline.  This threatens more homes, more public beach and more island infrastructure.  Without any kind of interim, near-term effort to stem the erosion, the island will continue to see an increased threat of breach in vulnerable areas.  This will cost more to repair in the long run than making some interim efforts now to stave off larger problems.

Dr. Douglass has been asked about recommendations for interim, near-term solutions, but he has replied that he has none.  His contract is for long term solutions.  We respect this, but in the meantime, more homes, roads and public beach are threatened.

It is not unreasonable for a group to take action to help themselves in the near-term, especially in the absence of concrete information or guarantees of what the long term plan will be, and in the absence of other short-term solutions being provided.

The property owners among us want to save their homes.  The non-property owners among us want to restore the public beach.  The environmentalists among us want to see the island preserved to protect the estuarine environment in the Sound.

Why would anyone think it is reasonable to wait several years for a solution, not even knowing exactly what we are waiting for?

What about funding programs?

The Task Force - comprised of unpaid volunteers - has worked very hard to try and locate funding for stop-gap measures since no near-term solutions are planned.  Seeking funding for interim measures in no way inhibits Dr. Douglass' study.  Most grants programs allocate funds every year.  It is not unreasonable to pursue funds for this year or next year, in the hopes that something can be done to inhibit erosion in the interim while we await the completion of the study, and the subsequent decision of the Town on which option to pursue for the long term.

The kind of funding that would be required for a major shoreline restoration project (tens of millions of dollars) is simply not the kind of dollars granted for a single project from the programs the Task Force is pursuing (e.g., GoMESA and CIAP).  The "single digit" millions these programs are willing to allocate to one community for a single project ($1m, $3m, $6m, etc.) would be a drop in the bucket toward the funding required for a major, long term effort, but would go a very long way toward helping crisis areas in the short term.

The kind of financing Dauphin Island will need for major shoreline restoration may be something more along the lines of what Mississippi and Louisiana have procured, for example, the MsCIP program and the recently proposed Gulf Coast Roadmap program.  These are large programs, the likes of which are procured through highly skilled lobbying efforts and through savvy negotiating at the state and federal levels, not through comparatively smaller programs like GoMESA and CIAP.

What the Task Force is doing in no way impacts what must be done on a large scale down the road for major restoration, again, assuming this is what the Town will decide to pursue.

Why are you "going off on your own" to do all this?

We are continually trying to work with the Town, with the DIPOA, with the Park & Beach Board, and with many other groups and persons.  We care nothing for "glory" or "credit" from accomplishments.  We would rather see the kudos go to the above-mentioned groups.  We would rather function merely as facilitators, to assist these groups, to help get things moving forward quickly, to help find solutions - which is what we have done, and continue to do.

We absolutely want to help our Town officials - to make their jobs easier, to help do research and legwork to find solutions to island erosion problems.  They have a tough job, and we have offered our time and skills to help out.  We would not be devoting hundreds of man-(and woman-) hours to this Task Force if we did not care, and care deeply.  We do want to see all parties working together and we are always trying to achieve that goal.

That said, we feel that more needs to be done in the short term.  We would not have formed this Task Force if there was a project underway at the present time to deal with the erosion which is occurring at an alarming and unnatural rate on the south shoreline.  It is not normal to lose 50 to 100 feet of shoreline in less than a year.

We feel that to sit back and watch more homes, beach and infrastructure fall into the ocean, while waiting for a long term solution (the details of which are completely unknown to us), is not reasonable.  So we are willing to act now.


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