For at least the next six months, the beaches of Harrison County will turn into a construction zone.
"We had about 800,000 cubic yards of sand lost as a result of Katrina," said Sand Beach Director Bobby Weaver. "As the storm surge came in, it took a lot of the material inland, and then as the surge went out, it took a lot of material back off shore. So what you have here going on now is the start of the re-nourishment project that the Corps of Engineers is doing."
The replenishment starts in Biloxi. Offshore, a dredge digs up sand deposits from the bottom of the Mississippi Sound. The sand is then pumped through pipes and on to the beach. Bulldozers take turns spreading out the wet, black sand, while dodging the delicate dunes.
"The sand is mixed with the water, so it has to de-water, and then it's moved in place," Weaver explained. "After a period of a couple of weeks, it'll bleach itself out to the white sand that we're accustomed to having."
Crews aren't just restoring all the sand that washed away. They're also piling on another layer.
"We're going to spread it out over the whole beach," Weaver said. "We're looking anywhere from a 6-to-12 inch additional layer of sand placed."
A total of 1.5 million cubic yards of sand will cover the 26 mile beach. Replacing all the lost sand on the beach is just the beginning. The next step is to repair all the damaged drainage pipes, open storm drains, seawall and equipment ramps. After that, crews will come in to plant additional dune vegetation to help keep as much of the sand on the beach as possible.
"It's going to be a beautiful beach," Weaver said. "Certainly during the summertime, we're going to have a lot of people out here. This is a start in our recovery from the beach."
The beach work should take about nine months to complete. The $8 million project is funded by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.