USA — Dredging damage in Alabama

Scott Douglas, eminent coastal engineer with the University of Alabama, leaves no doubt as to erosion brought about by dredging. Where this was carried out by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, it has dramatically harmed Alabama beaches and necessitated ongoing restoration projects costing the public about $28 million. He maintains that such practices caused hundreds of millions of dollars of losses in a recent hurricane, saying “Hurricane Ivan came ashore on a beach that offered vastly diminished protection from such a storm.” Incredibly, in the same article, Corps of Engineers officials actually acknowledged that the dredging and dumping practices may have caused long-term problems.

The Corps of Engineers’ prevailing failure on Alabama’s shoreline, Douglas contends, is the Mobile Ship Channel. Douglas points out that since 1939, the corps has maintained a 45-foot-deep ship channel cut right through the sandy slope that supports Dauphin Island and the Fort Morgan Peninsula. He says that sand, moving in from the east on the wave-driven conveyor belt, falls into the ship channel, where it collects until the corps dredges it up. Until recent years, the corps dumped the sand several miles offshore, far from the shoalshoal A sandbank or sandbar that makes the water shallow that supports Dauphin Island’s beaches and the littoral zone where tides would take the sand ashore.

Five years ago, Dauphin Island property owners sued the corps, claiming that the channel had caused the dramatic erosion on the island’s west end. The case is ongoing. Meanwhile, the Federal Emergency Management Agency erected a $1 million protective sand wall, or berm, but it washed away. Then Ivan came along, destroying 33 island homes and sucking away tons of sand.

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