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Q&A: Pier Dredging Effect

Pelican Island (aka Sand Island) is currently migrating into Dauphin Island, which appears to be helping to naturally rebuild the beaches.  Wouldn't dredging sand from under the pier interfere with this process?

Pelican Island will continue to migrate into Dauphin Island as it has done before in centuries past, whether or not any sand is dredged from the area immediately around the fishing pier.  A shallow-dredging project, the likes of which is proposed for the interim shoreline stabilization solution (and the only kind of dredging which could be afforded on minimal GoMESA funding), would not affect this process.  The proposal is not to create a 50 foot-deep shipping channel between Pelican Island and Dauphin Island, like there is between Fort Morgan and Fort Gaines.  If some of that sand was “helped along” a little faster via shallow dredging, it would not prevent Pelican Island from continuing to merge with Dauphin Island.

But the proposal is not to prevent Pelican Island from merging with Dauphin Island, it is to restore the fishing pier and facilitate some shoreline stabilization at the same time.  If the Park & Beach Board wishes for the pier to stay free of sand, maintenance dredging from time to time would have to occur.

The issue is primarily about time.  Pelican Island may not move to Dauphin Island fast enough or far west enough to prevent breaching, or further loss of homes and roads, in the crisis areas of the West End before hurricane season 2010.  There is an excess of sand around the pier but a starvation of sand further west (and in some points east as well).

Compensation not in dollars but in sand

Dauphin Island may never fully heal until there can be some compensation for the littoral drift interference caused by the harbor dredging.  Compensation not in dollars but in sand.  The dumping grounds for channel-dredged sand needs to be moved permanently to an area very close to the island, as recommended by both by Dr. Douglass and by the Corps themselves in their 1978 report.  Without this, it is entirely possible that Pelican Island may never fully reconstitute itself after migrating into Dauphin Island, because most sand attempting to migrate from Fort Morgan and points east never makes it past the ship channel, a channel which is being dredged deeper and wider all the time.

Again, the pier sand dredging is simply a recommendation to do something in the near term until a long term solution can be put in place.  And be aware that no property owner nor public beachgoer knows for sure what that long term solution will be, and what areas it will seek to restore.

What are we waiting for?

It is unreasonable to expect people, whose homes are in danger of falling into the ocean, to wait for an undetermined period of time while yet another study is completed, and then a decision made as to what to do, and then large-scale funding sought, and then a long term solution constructed.  If the policy is to not save the West End, or the land south of Bienville, people should be told that now.  They should not be strung along for several years, continuing to pour money into shoring up their homes, if ultimately they will be told that their area will not be included in the restoration project.

But since West Enders have been told by the Town government that the West End is not going to be abandoned, it is completely reasonable - and prudent! - to seek interim solutions.  Interim, stop-gap measures will stave off bigger problems and costlier repairs in the future to homes, roads and other infrastructure while we await the larger, long-term restoration project.  Other coastal communities do this - see Gulf Coast Roadmap.

The pier dredging would restore $100,000 or more per year in revenue for the Park & Beach Board and the Town of Dauphin Island, whether or not that excess sand was used to help out eroded public beach areas on the south shore.  Why not solve two problems at once?

Related Links

More Q&A

Interim Solution - Proposed Phases & Funding

Fun(ding) Facts

Why Save Dauphin Island?

1978 Corps Report on Ship Channel Dredging, see Downloads page

Erosion - Dredging

Long Term Plan - The Great Unknown



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