MOBILE, Ala. – The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Mobile District, announced Friday that Cat Island, Miss., has nearly been restored to its 1990’s shoreline, reducing hurricane risks to Mississippi and boosting the natural habitat for birds and turtles. The shoreline restoration is expected to conclude in mid-October with sand fencing and dune vegetation to be installed by May of 2018.
“Cat Island is an important asset to Mississippi, not just for its natural beauty, and historical value, but it also offers critical protection to our mainland,” said Delbert Hosemann, Mississippi secretary of state at a press conference held on the island. In addition to secretary of state, Hosemann is the state land commissioner and spearheaded acquiring the acreage at no cost to the state in December 2016.
“The renourishment project with the Corps of Engineers will help Mississippi protect these key features of the Island for future generations,” said Hosemann. “We are grateful to the Corps for their leadership and partnership in the renourishment project.”
Under a Memorandum of Agreement between the State of Mississippi and the Mobile District, the Corps agreed to renourish the east beach with about two million cubic feet of sand. The renourished area will be approximately 350 feet wide and between five to seven feet in height, sloping toward the Gulf. The renourishment will restore the island to its 1990’s condition, at a cost of $14.3 million. The work was fully federally funded through the 2009 Department of Defense Supplemental Appropriations Act. The project will be monitored for up to 10 years post-construction to determine its success.
“In 2005 one of the most destructive storms on record, Hurricane Katrina, exposed some vulnerabilities along the Mississippi coast,” said Lt. Col. Andrew Yoder, Mobile District deputy commander. “We are in the final stages of restoring Cat Island, a barrier island just off the Mississippi coast that is critical to reducing wave energy that impacts nearby Gulfport and Biloxi. Once the re-restoration of Cat Island is complete, we will continue to monitor the efficacy of our efforts to ensure that we have met our purpose.”
Located approximately nine miles from the Mississippi Gulf Coast, legend has it that Cat Island was named because the Spanish mistook raccoons for cats.
On its inaugural mission, the brand-new dredge Robert M. White used its 30 inch cutter head to pump sand onto Cat Island’s shores. Christened in June, the state-of-the-art dredge can relocate up to 40,000 cubic yards of sand in a day, allowing the beach’s restoration to be scheduled for completion in approximately 65 days, or mid-October.
The restored Island will have greater sustainability and render longer lasting benefits to the mainland.
“Hurricane Katrina devastated the Mississippi Gulf coast with storm surges of over 28 feet in Hancock and Harrison Counties,” said Susan Rees, project manager, Mobile District’s Coastal Resiliency Program. “Cat Island lies approximately nine miles offshore from these counties. The Mississippi Barrier Islands provide significant risk reduction to the mainland primarily during the frequent, less intensive, tropical storms basically serving as a 'speed bump' which disrupts waves and therefore lessens their energy when hitting the mainland.”
In addition to restoring Cat Island’s shoreline, the Corps built a turbidity barrier, approximately 3,500 linear feet long that was completed in June
“The purpose of this barrier is to protect sub-aquatic vegetation beds that are present around the southern end of the island,” said Joseph Black, project engineer.
Dune construction is the final stage of the project, where approximately 85,000 plants and 4,750 linear feet of fencing will be placed on two dunes. Dune construction is scheduled to begin in late November.
“The entire project will be monitored for up to 10 years to determine the success in terms of turtle and shorebird nesting habitat and risk-reduction to the mainland,” said Rees. “Modifications to the project will be made if necessary, based on the monitoring.”
The Mobile District started planning for the Mississippi Coastal Improvements Program Barrier Island Comprehensive Restoration in early 2006. Design and construction funding was received in 2009. Engineering, design and environmental compliance were finalized in June 2016. In December 2016, Mobile District purchased 492 acres on the eastern side of Cat Island in the name of the state of Mississippi.
Restoration of another nearby barrier island, Ship Island, is scheduled to begin with the initial closure of Camille Cut in November and is expected to last approximately 2.5 years. Under that project, the district will place 19.5 million cubic yards of sand to fill Camille Cut, the 3.5 mile breech between West and East Ship Islands, and replenish East Ship Island’s southern shoreline.