FEMA - environmental studies caused delays in Gulf Shores beach restoration project
GULF SHORES, Ala. (WALA) - Fox 10 News is getting answers about why a beach re-nourishment project in Gulf Shores has been delayed for months. City leaders and anxious homeowners on West Beach are more than frustrated with FEMA, the agency tasked with approving the work.
According to FEMA, this long delay was due in part to a survey about whether the project would impact historical or cultural resources. In their response to our questions, FEMA said the survey is part of the approval process required by the National Environmental Policy Act.
Two stretches of beach most impacted by erosion are in front of condominiums between 8th St. and 10th St. and further west in the 1700 block of West Beach Boulevard. That’s where Fox 10 News caught up with Laurie and Ken Schindele. The erosion is so bad there, where steps from walkways once met the sand, waves now crash several feet below them.
“If you can pan over to that stairway there, I can walk under it now, but when we first came, we could sit on that step and look at the ocean, so that’s how much is eroded,” Laurie Schindele said.
The Schindeles got to Gulf Shores in December and they said the changes they’ve seen with the beach since then are shocking.
The city of Gulf Shores, in partnership with Gulf State Park and the city of Orange Beach applied for approval from FEMA nearly a year ago to pump sand from the floor of the gulf onto the beaches there. Gulf Shores City Engineer, Mark Acreman said they were blindsided by FEMA adding an additional step to the process which required among other things, doing a sonar survey of the bottom of the Gulf of Mexico between the dredge zone and the beach.
When asked why there’s been such a delay when the city has done all that’s been asked of it, Acreman voiced his dissatisfaction.
“We don’t know and that’s the frustrating part,” said Acreman. “We were hoping to start this project in October or November. Then, were told it may not be till spring that we’re released to start this project and once we’re released to start it, we still have to bid it, award it and then mobilize a large, large barge operation.”
Fox 10 News spoke with a FEMA representative Tuesday, January 31, 2023 who said they are now finalizing the approval. Meanwhile, the tourist season is fast approaching with spring break only a little more than a month away. City officials are frustrated and have multiple concerns on how the condition of the affected beaches will impact property owners and visitors.
“It is frustrating because we know how critical this infrastructure is to the protection of our structures along the coastline but also to the economy. There’s a lot of people depending on this beach and we want to make sure that this beach is in the best possible shape it van be,” Acreman explained.
Fox 10 News has learned that the survey which caused the delay was requested by the “Tribal Historic Preservation Offices” and we’ve been told that survey is now complete.
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