- Associated Press - Sunday, March 6, 2016

DAUPHIN, Ala. (AP) - Large construction equipment perched on East End beach has become the newest sight-seeing attraction on Alabama’s only barrier island.

The construction crew will soon complete the largest beach nourishment in the island’s history, Al.com (https://bit.ly/1UCgNGf ) reported. The project is a $6.8 million federally funded job in an effort to restore the beaches that attract thousands of summer visitors.

“It’s the first time in history we’ve done this and it’s a pretty positive thing for us,” Dauphin Island Mayor Jeff Collier said. “At the end of the day, we’ll have a much more attractive and user friendly public beach for people to enjoy.”

The project will add 300,000 cubic yards of sand to the one-mile stretch of beach. It will also reconfigure offshore jetties in hopes of preventing further erosion along the area’s shores.

The work started Feb. 26 and is being handled by Weeks Marine Inc., one of the nation’s largest dredging companies. The project is expected to be completed before Memorial Day weekend, May 28-30, when tourism season typically starts on Alabama beaches.

The same company is currently overseeing an 8.1-mile, $17 million shoreline nourishment project at Pensacola Beach that was supposed to wrap up in November, but has been pushed back largely because of difficult surf conditions.

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and the U.S. Geological Study are coordinating a $3.6 million study for restorative efforts all along Dauphin Island’s shoreline. The study is being funded by the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation, according to Susan Rees, program manager for coastal resiliency with the Corps of Engineers. The money comes from BP oil spill settlement money awarded in 2014.

The study won’t be finished until 2019, but Collier said he’s anticipating an update sometime this summer and fall.

The council is administering slightly more than $300 million in Clean Water Act penalties awarded from last year’s settlement between five coastal states, including Alabama, and BP stemming from the 2010 Deepwater Horizon disaster.

Hank Caddell, secretary and treasurer of the Alabama Coastal Heritage Trust, said it’s a “ridiculous” waste of the public’s dollars to nourish the West End Beach and to protect homeowners who are too close to the water and “unwisely built and rebuilt” following hurricanes.

Caddell argues that the coastal construction line, which regulates how close someone can build to the Gulf of Mexico, hasn’t been altered by the Alabama Department of Environmental Management in years. He said the line currently extends into the Gulf because it hasn’t been updated to reflect the erosion that has occurred to the island.

Rhonda Hopkins, owner of Anchor Real Estate in Dauphin Island, said she is hopeful that the East End Beach work creates a similar economic synergy.

“When people come down and vacation, they look to buy,” she said. “They want something protected and not something they think will be washing away. We just need to stay on top of it if we can keep it looking nice. That helps the economy on the island.”

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