News Stories

Hurricane Ida tested the “Blind Side” of the Mississippi Coast

USACE, Mobile District
Published Sept. 9, 2021
Hurricane Ida tested the “Blind Side” of the Mississippi Coast

Hurricane Ida tested the “Blind Side” of the Mississippi Coast

MOBILE, Ala. – In football, the offense line plays a valuable role as it blocks for running backs and protects the quarterback from the rush of the defense in passing situations, so the offense can be successful and score.

Without those unsung, unknown linemen protecting the offense, the offense would have no success.

Here in the Mobile District, the Mississippi Coastal Improvement Program (MsCIP) oversees its own offensive line, the Mississippi Barrier Islands (Ship Island, Cat Island, Horn Island and Petit Bois Island), which serve as a protective barrier to the main Mississippi coastline in the event of major storms.

And according to Justin McDonald, MsCIP Program Manager, just like those linemen, those barrier islands held up and did the task of protecting the mainland Mississippi coastline as Hurricane Ida pounded the Gulf Coast early last week.

“Early indications are the Barrier Islands got very high marks and did what they were supposed to do,” said McDonald. “It’s very gratifying for our team and our multi-agency partners. It makes us feel good when you see that happen.”

As one can imagine, the months of May through November, the heart of Hurricane Season on the Gulf Coast, can be a busy time of year for the members of the MsCIP team.

It can also be disheartening as projects such as planting vegetation on the islands, can be washed away in one devastating storm.

One recent example was earlier this year the team planted dune grass and installed sand fences on the islands in Harrison County, Miss., only to see all of the fences destroyed by Ida.

“It can pretty much turn into a wash-rinse-repeat routine,” McDonald said in terms of storms. “But that’s why these projects are there, to protect the mainland coastline and to protect public and private property. It can be disheartening at times and you hope for 1-2 years of no storms. But that’s the nature of the beast. Those islands are the sacrificial lamb. They get beat up, but they reduce damages on the backend.”

Being a tackling dummy for major storms is not the only function of the barrier islands. The islands are extremely valuable in terms of providing environmental impact to the Gulf Coast as it is a habitat for a variety of species of birds and protected wildlife.

The islands also are cultural resource sites, protecting the heritage of the area and provide an economic benefit to the area as well.

“The islands serve a two-fold benefit, environmental and storm reduction,” McDonald said. “The islands maintain water quality in the Mississippi Sound for the wildlife that is the big economic engine for that region. It is pretty much a regulator and filter between salt and fresh water. Without the islands, the sound would be much more saline.”

With Hurricane Ida now in the review mirror, the MsCIP team has washed and rinsed…Will there be a repeat? On the Gulf Coast, you know you always have to be ready during Hurricane Season.

“The vegetation and elevation we did at Ship Island stood the test,” McDonald said of Hurricane Ida. “We will do our surveys, repair the damage we can, and we’ll see what happens with the next event.”