CAT ISLAND, MS (WLOX) - Cat Island's east beach has changed a lot since the beginning of summer, but the state of Mississippi hopes it will soon return to its pre-1998 appearance. This requires a big dredging and beach replenishment project.
Secretary of State Delbert Hosemann recalls a time when this major accomplishment was just a dream.
"We started a conversation about how it would be great if the citizens of the great state of Mississippi owned this one day," said Hosemann. "Today we have an island that is environmentally sensitive, that is here to protect the coast from hurricanes and for our enjoyment of every citizen."
In 2016, the state government acquired hundreds of acres of the island with $13.7 million of federal funds. The east beach restoration is projected to cost around $16 million in federal funds.
The process may be complicated, but the Army Corps of Engineers is pleased with how quickly it's moving.
"This is one of the greatest accomplishments of my entire career," said Dr. Susan Rees, who is leading the engineering effort on the island.
According to Rees, the biggest challenge in building the three and a half mile stretch and 2 million cubic yards of the beach was finding material.
"We spent a lot of time looking for sand, punching cores in the bottom to determine. Because we've got to worry about the color of the sand," said Rees.
Sand color and grain size have a lot to do with the wildlife thriving in the area, including nesting sea turtles. The engineers found the right sand for the project almost two miles off the island. That is where a dredge is pumping up to 50,000 yards of sand every day, pushing the beach closer to completion.
The beach replenishment project started in June and is expected to be finished by mid-October.