Updated: Monday, 21 Dec 2009, 1:46 PM CST
Published : Monday, 21 Dec 2009, 1:46 PM CST
With the integrity of Dauphin Island under threat from increasingly intense coastal storms, U.S. Rep. Jo Bonner, R-AL, has secured $1.5 million to study the feasibility of stabilizing the island so that it can continue to serve as a hurricane buffer.
"Dauphin Island's role in shielding coastal areas from the brunt of storms is one that we can no longer afford to take for granted," Congressman Bonner said. "It is coastal Alabama's barrier island from hurricanes, and as such, it has sustained significant damage from recent storms, including Hurricane Katrina in 2005."
Those recent storms significantly eroded portions of Dauphin Island's shoreline, eventually leading to a breach on the west end during Hurricane Katrina. However, other factors have been identified as contributing to accelerated shoreline decline, not all of which are natural occurrences. According to a 2007 report by Dr. Robert Morton of the U.S. Geologic Survey, transportation channel dredging practices also contributed to the issue both in Alabama and in other barrier chains along the Gulf Coast.
The important role of barrier islands in defending upland communities and habitats from storm damage often goes unmentioned. For instance, Dauphin Island shields South Mobile County's coastal marshes and inland areas by reducing storm surge and wave intensity. The west end breach has been sited by local commercial fishing interests as one of the factors that have led to higher water salinity levels, which has led to an increase in oyster drills decimating local oyster reefs. Economic activities generated by commercial and recreational fishing industries depend on a healthy ecosystem in order to continue to survive. Beyond this critical function, the coastal erosion on Dauphin Island imperils many important cultural, environmental, and social sites including Historic Fort Gaines, Dauphin Island Sea Lab, and the Audubon Bird Sanctuary.
"We cannot control the frequency or intensity of future storms, but we can better utilize natural protections, such as our barrier islands to lessen the severity of local destruction."
"Taking action to stabilize Dauphin Island from further erosion and to restore it as an effective natural barrier from tropical storms and hurricanes is a good investment not only for the residents of Dauphin Island but also for those who populate coastal Mobile county," Rep. Bonner said.
The $1.5 million requested by Congressman Bonner for the Dauphin Island stabilization feasibility study was included in the Consolidated Appropriations Act Conference Report (H.R. 3288) and signed into law last week.
"Through his actions, Congressman Bonner has not only shown that he represents his constituents, but is a leader on issues important to Alabama," Dauphin Island Mayor Jeff Collier said.
"Without his tireless support and effort, the Town wouldn't have the resources to determine whether beach nourishment would be an effective resolution to this increasing problem."
Beach nourishment—used successfully by Orange Beach and Gulf Shores to stabilize their coastline—along with improved sand bypassing have been identified as the best courses of action in a preliminary study conducted by Dr. Scott Douglass, a professor who has studied Dauphin Island for over twenty years. In that inspection, Dr. Douglass identified the island's historic patterns to suggest an engineering focus that works with Mother Nature to the best benefit of the island and the areas it protects. As a professor of coastal engineering, Dr. Douglass has written extensively on the subject of shoreline decline authoring the book, Saving America's Beaches: the Causes of and Solutions to Beach Erosion.
"The funding obtained through Congressman Bonner's actions will allow us to take an island-wide approach to determine whether or not beach nourishment is a feasible resolution to the erosion problem,' Dr. Douglass said. "As importantly, we will have the first real estimate of what a nourishment project for Dauphin Island should look like and what costs will be associated with possible construction."