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Two Beach Renourishment Projects Working to Restore Alabama's Gulf Coast

Thu January 25, 2024 - Southeast Edition #3
Outdoor Alabama

Bulldozers near Gulf State Park's Pavilion move sand pumped in from nearshore areas to bolster Alabama's beaches.
Photo courtesy of Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources
Bulldozers near Gulf State Park's Pavilion move sand pumped in from nearshore areas to bolster Alabama's beaches.

For those folks planning trips to Alabama's beautiful Gulf Coast for spring break or summer vacation this year, expect to see beach renourishment projects at the East End of Dauphin Island in Mobile County and in Baldwin County from west of Little Lagoon Pass all the way east to the Florida-Alabama state line.

"It is great to see our beaches being renourished," said Chris Blankenship, commissioner of the state's Department of Conservation and Natural Resources, better known as Outdoor Alabama.

"From the Florida line through Gulf State Park and Gulf Shores to west of Little Lagoon Pass, the beaches in Baldwin County are getting several million cubic yards of fresh, clean sand.

"On Dauphin Island there is a lot of sand moving as well. In 2023, new islands and marsh areas were created on the north side of the middle of Dauphin Island in Graveline Bay. The East End renourishment project just getting under way will put more than a million cubic yards of sand on [that] beach."

In addition, he explained that the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) has closed the Pass Drury cut on Little Dauphin Island with sand dredged from the inside channel, and Outdoor Alabama is funding the engineering and design for adding millions of cubic yards of sand to the West End of Dauphin Island in 2025.

"All of this work on the area around Dauphin Island will be great for sustaining the ecological and cultural benefits that [the island] provides for our area," Blankenship noted.

In all, the engineered beach renourishment projects involve pumping more than 3 million cu. yds. of sand from nearshore areas onto the Alabama beaches. Those efforts, which also include raising sand dune heights, planting vegetation and building sand fences, are partially funded by the Federal Emergency Management Administration (FEMA), the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation (NFWF), the Gulf Environmental Benefit Fund (GEBF) as well as from state and local sources.

Bill Bennett, general manager of The Lodge at Gulf State Park, said the beach renourishment project may be a slight inconvenience as it occurs but will provide great benefits for the future of the Alabama Gulf Coast. He added that the beaches where he has lived during his lifetime all faced the reality of coastal erosion and required renourishment projects like the one currently under way in Alabama.

"This project is absolutely amazing to witness," he explained. "It disrupted a few people on overnight stays, but when you walk out on that east boardwalk and watch the ship come in to pump sand onto the beaches and bulldozers moving the sand into place, you [are watching] your natural habitat expand and protect everything north of the coastline. That's what the dunes are designed for."

Bennett also applauded the commitment made by Baldwin County, its cities, and Outdoor Alabama to ensure the vitality of the beaches.

"In watching the renourishment, it speaks to their commitment to the protection of this natural asset. It makes me proud of our commitment to sustainable environmental and economic stewardship. This is taking care of it and ensuring it will be here for years to come for our children and grandchildren."

Work Now Under Way to Replenish Orange Beach

Crews in Baldwin County have completed the work in Gulf Shores and Gulf State Park and are just starting to pump sand onto the shoreline of Orange Beach, an effort that will continue until it reaches the Florida-Alabama line.

Phillip West, coastal resources director of the city, told Outdoor Alabama the beach renourishment is not quite as large as the one completed in 2005 after Hurricane Ivan, where more than 3 million cu. yds. of sand were used to mitigate that storm's destruction.

"The current project will use about 650,000 cu. yds. of material in Orange Beach," he said. "It's not as huge as the project after Hurricane Ivan because the beaches aren't in as bad a shape as they were after [that storm]. This project is to repair damage from Hurricanes Nate in 2017 and Sally in 2020 as well as repair normal erosion."

It also will include fixing breaches in the sand dunes, planting sea oats and installing sand fences, West noted.

"Prior to Ivan, we'd never done any beach renourishment, and it showed. By maintaining our beaches and doing these periodic renourishments, we are able to maintain an ‘engineered beach' designation in the eyes of FEMA. If you maintain that, [and] if you do have a catastrophic event, FEMA will cost share with you to repair the damage."

Dauphin Island Project Likely to Finish This Spring

Across the mouth of Mobile Bay to the west, the Dauphin Island beach renourishment project will restore approximately 1.5 mi. of beach shoreline and approximately 85 acres of beach and dune habitat on the 14-mi.-long barrier island that protects a portion of the Alabama Gulf Coast.

The East End beach also protects the Audubon Bird Sanctuary and other upland resources from erosion due to storms. The project is designed to protect an additional 50 acres of beach and dune habitat as well as a maritime forest and a freshwater lake within the Dauphin Island East End Bird Sanctuary.

Dauphin Island Mayor Jeff Collier told Outdoor Alabama that he expected the East End restoration to get under way before the end of January.

"The contractors are assembling the dredge pipeline," he added, "and will be moving 1.1 million cu. yds. of sand onto 1.5 mi. of shoreline. It won't make it all the way to the golf course. We will also have a restoration of the dune system with sea oats planting and sand fencing. The emphasis on all of this is habitat protection and creation. One of the big things is the protection of the bird sanctuary property, which is under threat of being breached in storms. That whole ecosystem could be changed from freshwater habitat with saltwater intrusion."

Collier said he appreciates the NFWF's funding of the $25 million project, expected to be complete in three to four months.

"We really think this is a great project for a lot of different reasons," he explained. "It's going to increase the beach area that the people can enjoy, and, at the same time, it's going to increase the habitat for animals, like birds and sea turtles. It covers all the bases.

"We just ask beachgoers and boaters to be aware of the construction activity. Be mindful of that and stay out of the construction area. Pipelines will be in the water and on land. It's very interesting to watch, but we ask that people keep a safe distance away."

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