by Chuck Walker
MOBILE, Ala. – As the second largest restoration project in the history of the National Park Service, the Mobile District’s restoration of Ship Island, a barrier island on the western tip of Gulf Islands National Seashore, 10 miles off the coast of Mississippi, is an important contribution to the preservation of one of the nation’s precious natural resources.
Completed on May 8, 2020, the fourth phase of the Ship Island Restoration Project is part of an ongoing five-phase effort to not only restore and protect the valuable habitats of the island, but enhance the resiliency of the Mississippi Sound and the nearby Mississippi coastline.
With the completion of the fourth phase, it leaves the project with one last phase to complete, which calls for placing material on the southern shoreline of what had, for a time, become dubbed as “East Ship Island.”
During the initial phase of the project, the Mobile District filled a 3½-mile breach initially created by the heavy damage from Hurricane Camille in 1969. The breach — known locally as the Camille Cut — had nearly healed itself naturally over the ensuing decades, that is, until Hurricane Katrina ravaged the region and reopened the breach in 2005. In addition to closing the Camille Cut, the initial phase of the project reinforced the island by raising it to an elevation of approximately five feet above sea level. The Project’s second phase raised the Camille Cut an additional two feet and widened the area an additional 500 feet to further strengthen the barrier island in the inevitable onslaught of future hurricanes.
In a separate phase of the project, dune vegetation was planted on the fill of what had been the Camille Cut, with a further project phase placing additional sand on the north side of the former Camille Cut area to complete its filling to designed final width and elevation.
“Completion of Phase 4 is a huge accomplishment that enables the USACE and Mississippi to address additional requirements in the region,” said Col. Sebastien P. Joly, USACE Mobile District commander. “We’re excited to move into the final phase of the project.”
At approximately $300M, the Ship Island Restoration Project rivals the Corps’ ongoing restoration project in the Florida Everglades, and is matter of pride and passion to the Mobile District team of engineering and environmental professionals, many of whom grew up along the Gulf Coast. The successful results of the project are also an invaluable resource to the state of Mississippi, as Ship Island and the other barrier islands in the region are the first line of defense protecting the Mississippi coastline against incoming hurricanes and tropical storms.
Justin McDonald, Mississippi Coastal Improvement Program Manager, said the project is one of his most rewarding and a true success story.
“It’s been one of the most rewarding projects I’ve ever worked on and it’s a true success story of federal and state agency collaboration,” McDonald said. “This project could not have been successful without the expertise and support of other agencies such as the National Park Service, U.S. Geological Survey, Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the State of Mississippi and many others. I’ve worked with some of the best and brightest in our profession to make this project a true success. It’s one that we are all proud of and will be happy to see it completed in the near future.”
The National Park Service, which manages Ship Island as part of the major environmental and recreation area that makes up Gulf Islands National Seashore, expressed similar pleasure in partnering with the Corps.
“The National Park Service is proud to partner with the U.S Army Corps of Engineers in restoring Ship Island,” said Brent Everitt, Chief of Communications Gulf Islands National Seashore. “It is an incredible resource along the Mississippi Gulf Coast. Together, with the Mobile District, the Gulf Islands National Seashore is ensuring the island will continue to serve the nation for generations to come.”
With the Ship Island Restoration Project now 90% completed, work on the project’s final phase began this week and is scheduled to be finished this November.
The Mississippi Coastal Improvements Program (MsCIP) was launched by the Mobile District of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers in December 2005, in response to the major environmental damage to the Mississippi coastline and its barrier islands caused by Hurricane Katrina. The MsCIP mission is to build a more resilient coastal Mississippi through water resources related projects throughout the state's three coastal counties, addressing hurricane and storm damage reduction, salt water intrusion, shoreline erosion, and fish and wildlife preservation.