Ship Island restoration work underway - WLOX.com - The News for South Mississippi

Ship Island restoration work underway

Updated:
SHIP ISLAND, MS (WLOX) -

It's a project that will help protect the coast from future storm damage and make Ship Island whole once again. Work is underway on the first phase of a comprehensive barrier island restoration project.

Scientists began developing the plans five years ago shortly after Hurricane Katrina. Phase one involves moving lots of sand onto West Ship Island.

West Ship Island is one big construction zone.  Wet, dark sand gushes from a giant dredge pipe as heavy equipment moves the slushy material into place.

"We're putting about 430,000 cubic yards of sand around the north shore, around Ft. Massachusetts. This is the beginning of the much larger barrier island restoration that will start next fall," said program manager Dr. Susan Rees.

That larger project will include filling Camille Cut, the hurricane breach that cut Ship Island in half.

"That work will take about 30 months. We'll take roughly 13.5 million cubic yards of sand to fill Camille cut," said Dr. Rees.

This initial work also includes removing tons of concrete and steel from around Ft. Massachusetts. It was placed there back in the 1950s to slow erosion. Unfortunately, it made things worse.

"Right now, approximately 40 percent of the fort is standing in the gulf, in water," said Gulf Islands superintendent, Dan Brown.

Historically, erosion on Ship Island was restored naturally, with shifting sand. But things changed dramatically six years ago.

"Hurricane Katrina took away a tremendous amount of sand out of the system. And the scientists felt if we didn't come in and augment that sediment budget, Ship Island would ultimately disappear," said Dr. Rees.

Even though the island restoration project will cost hundreds of millions of dollars, the long term value of the project is immeasurable. Especially considering the role of the barrier islands in reducing storm damage to the mainland.

"If you could sort of get into your worst nightmare, with these islands gone, then what you're seeing is the Gulf of Mexico right up in Gulfport and Biloxi, Mississippi," said the program manager.

The entire project will take two and half years to complete. The work to fill in Camille cut will begin next fall.  The cost of the island restoration project is $300 million.

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