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Why Save Dauphin Island (including the West End)

There are many people who choose to make Dauphin Island their home and live there year-round.  They love its beauty and character, and its different personalities - the calm of the foliage-heavy inland areas, the quaint middle village, the brightness of the West End's white sand and sparkling water views on all sides.

Yet some seem to view the West End as undeserving of restoration or protection.  Contrary to the beliefs of some, the West End is not just a string of "impersonal" rental properties, owned by "millionaires."  Below are examples of real West End property owners:

  • There is the modest-income retiree who could finally afford to buy her first Gulf view waterfront home at age 75, so that she could look at the waves and seagulls.  She doesn't rent and she comes down whenever she can get someone to drive her.

  • There is the active duty soldier, home on leave, who had to abandon her home on Christmas Eve 2009 due to encroaching water.  Read her poignant story on our Letters page.

  • There is the man whose family had a long association with the island, and he himself spent most of his life on the island.  The West End is his full-time residence.

  • There is the middle-class retired couple who invested their retirement funds in a house rather than the stock market.  It provides a place they can enjoy themselves on weekends most of the year, and occasionally rent to make a little money on the side to supplement their modest income.

  • There is the close-to-retirement-age woman, laid off from her job, who is now struggling financially and will have to rent her beloved seaside cottage (never rented before) just to survive.

There are many more stories like these.  Most of these people have a life-long love affair with the island.  These people and the money they spend on the island contribute enormously to keep the island alive financially.

The typical West End "landlord"

And regarding those people for whom the island means income through rental properties, why is that bad?  These people chose to invest in something that would help supplement their income, no different from anyone else trying to build a retirement nest egg.  They could have invested in the stock market, which would have resulted in no added revenue for the island.  But they chose to invest in the island, which helps everyone on the island.  Investment in the island is a good thing!

The typical West End landlord is not a billionaire developer who seeks to erect multi-million dollar, high-rise condos as far as the eye can see down the beach, blocking the view for others (as is the case in some other coastal communities).  They are mostly average, middle class people who are just trying to get ahead like anyone else.

If the full-time residents and small-time landlords of the West End are forced out by lack of action to stop erosion, there are several possibilities of what could happen.  Below is a scenario of a possible future, postulated by several West End homeowners.

A Possible Future for the West End?

The End of the West End

A Hypothetical Happening
Concerned Homeowners on the West End

It is decided that the West End south shoreline is not worth saving.  A berm system is constructed on the southern edge of Bienville Blvd to protect the road and the north shore.  Properties south of the road and the berm have no such protection.

Unlike other coastal communities that work hard to secure both public and private funding to keep their beaches maintained, some on Dauphin Island are strongly opposed to any money spent on West End beach nourishment, even if it was paid for with grant money or non-taxpayer funds such as oil and gas royalties.

So the public beach is never restored, and the berm system stands alone as the last line of defense for the road and the north shore homes.  But by itself, it is not enough.  The Gulf of Mexico continues its rapid march northward, due partly to natural causes, but also due in large part to sand starvation from the ship channel dredging.  It soon overtakes all the properties south of Bienville, then threatens Bienville Blvd itself.

As dry land disappears from under the pilings of one home after another, the utilities companies cut off services to these homes, rendering them uninhabitable.  The insurance companies drop them, eliminating any chance of the homeowner recovering something from the loss.

As the West End is overtaken or breached in multiple locations, the entire area is declared uninhabitable and must be evacuated.  The homeowners are forced to sell for pennies on the dollar, decimating what for many of them serves as their only retirement income and investments, or worse, their only home.  The West End, particularly the south shore, is left with abandoned houses or no houses at all.

The displaced West Enders (those who still have some financial means after the loss of their properties) move on to purchase beachfront homes in other cities and states where beach nourishment and shoreline maintenance is routine, and recognized for the value it provides in tourism and tax dollars.

The tax base on the West End has now all but vanished.  There is little or no more revenue from what was once an important financial resource, a resource which generated more than half the Town's budget dollars.  Some island businesses suffer or close down.  Taxpayer-supported Town services are cut or eliminated.

After a period of time, with the island experiencing severely lessened revenue and an increasing difficulty to pay for public services, the real billionaire developers show up, offering to "save" the town.  These developers then purchase those same lots, what remains of them, for even fewer pennies on the dollar.

Suddenly, mysteriously, the West End is deemed habitable again, even though nothing geographically has changed for the better.  The re-designation (for no apparent reason other then dollars) that the West End is again safe for occupancy now opens the floodgates for large-scale development.

The big-money developers set about rebuilding the beachfront - widening the beach as much as they want - to erect monster condos and commercial properties, blocking the view for anyone north of these structures.  With all their money and power, these deep-pocket investors are able to designate the entire West End Gulf beach as private property, to keep out not only the general public, but other islanders as well.  Or, seeing an opportunity to make even more money, they decide to make the new beach public (but not free, as it was before), so they pave over a few miles of it for parking, and they charge a pretty penny for access.

The residents on other parts of the island had watched (and some cruelly cheered) as the mostly middle class, former West End homeowners (who personally loved the island as much as others, and had a long history with it) were uprooted by decree or by design.  But then these same residents who were glad to see the West Enders go were horrified to see those homeowners replaced by large-scale commercial concerns and landlords who "love" the island only for the money it generates for them.  These new land barons particularly love the 99-year tax abatements they were granted (talk about public funding for private property!), as their reward for "saving" the financially struggling Town.

The remaining residents sadly remember the days when just being a property owner anywhere on the island gave them free access to the West Surf Beach - a scenario which was the case for decades, long before the Property Owners Association deeded the beach to the Town to make it open and available to the general public back in the mid-2000's.

The character of the island is now completely changed.  It is no longer the quiet village it once was.  Some of the remaining old-time islanders leave, seeking a peaceful paradise somewhere else - one that reminds them of the Dauphin Island of years past, when the West End was a quiet and traffic-free domain, dotted with little beach houses on stilts, and the public had free access to the multi-mile-long beach along the Gulf.

Back to the Present

The above described future may seem far-fetched to some, but to others, it is far too close to a possible reality for comfort.

One can list many rational reasons why to save the island, particularly its West End.  But there are the emotional reasons too - the reasons why so many people decide to make the island their home, either part-time or full-time.  This includes West Enders too.

Of course West Enders are willing to fight to save their homes.  Anyone would.  Why would anyone begrudge them that?

Related Links

More Reasons to Save Dauphin Island

If you have a story about how you love your island home (or the island in general), and how you want to see the island protected from erosion and/or your home saved, email us and we may post your story on our Letters page.



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