Baldwin County Beach erosion creates dangerous situation after permits delayed

Government Editor
Posted 2/1/23

GULF SHORES — Jeri Reichanadter said the sand near her property on West Beach has been washing away at a steady rate for the last several months.It was fine in August and September when they …

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Baldwin County Beach erosion creates dangerous situation after permits delayed


GULF SHORES — Jeri Reichanadter said the sand near her property on West Beach has been washing away at a steady rate for the last several months.

It was fine in August and September when they came down, she said.

"We came down the day after Christmas and was there until Jan. 1, and the beach had shrunk considerably," she said. "Once you got off of our boardwalk down the steps you still kind of had to step down, like over an edge of sand and we had never had to do that before. That was pretty surprising."

A beach renourishment project that would add more than 1 million cubic yards of sand along the Gulf coastline was postponed until next fall.

The project had been scheduled to start in November. Local officials were told before the beginning of the work that the required permits from the Federal Emergency Management Agency had not been issued in time to start on schedule.

Rather than have the project take place during the summer tourist season, the work was postponed until this fall.

Reichanadter said that since the start of the year, the sand in front of her property continued to erode.

"Our snowbirds came in, and they said we've never seen it like this," she said. "Then this week, I got these pictures where it's just a straight drop off and then after the storm that happened a couple of days ago, you can see under our steps. It's terrible."

She said sand has also washed away from some ramps intended to allow handicapped visitors to reach the beach.

"It's just, it's gone," she said. "And we've been waiting on FEMA to give money to the city council and now the city council says when we get our money, we're not going to do anything until after a tourist season until November. So now guests and residents aren't even going to be able to use the beach because they want to wait to you know, put the new sand in. So, we're just kind of surprised and saddened by everything that's going on and concerned about you know, the economy and the impact that the loss to tourism is going to have on all of Gulf Shores in Baldwin County."

Grant Brown, Gulf Shores public information officer, said city officials are aware of the erosion and are working on solutions.

"We're working a couple of different avenues," Brown said. "One is to absolutely get FEMA to release our permit so that we can go out and bid the beach renourishment project in conjunction with Orange Beach and the Gulf State Park."

Orange Beach and the Gulf State Park are all taking part in the project. Brown said that while beaches in all three areas have experienced erosion, the problem appears to be worse in locations such as West Beach.

"All three of us are in kind of the same boat, but we've got some of the worst erosion areas in Gulf Shores, particularly there around that part of beach and then farther on the other side of the (Little Lagoon) pass," Brown said. "That's pretty bad as well. So, we've been in contact with our coastal engineer trying to see if there's any kind of shorter-term solution. But right now, we haven't identified one."

Brown said beaches often lose sand during the winter and regain some material in the spring.

"Most of the majority of sand loss occurs in the winter months, other than in storm season of hurricanes," he said. "We'll get a little bit of sand pushing back in and accumulating in the spring, March, April-ish. We don't know what it will look like how much will come back. Will it affect the areas positively? We don't know that yet."

Brown said Gulf Shores officials have contacted the area's congressional delegation in an attempt to get permits approved to allow some sand to be pumped onto local beaches.

He said coastal officials still plan to begin the main renourishment project in the fall.

"We're ready to go for a fall or winter of this year beach renourishment so that we would have already had the beaches back to normal distance, and sand dunes back in place," Brown said.

He said the delay will also leave beaches with less sand to protect coastal structures during hurricane season.

"In the short term, of course, it's a safety hazard," Brown said. "Some properties are being impacted, but it's also going into a storm season. We're pretty well exposed, and that's probably got just as much of our attention as anything because now our first line of defense, which is the distance of the sand as well as sand dunes, is pretty much nonexistent in part of our cities."

In Orange Beach, Mayor Tony Kennon said some erosion has also been reported. He said the project cannot start without federal approval.

"As far as we know, we're starting in the fall. There was no way to do it in the summer. It just wasn't a possibility. And that's the way the timing lined out with the corps and FEMA, so hopefully we can start in the fall as early as we can," Kennon said.

"I think Gulf Shores may have problems more so than we do. But we do have some areas where the beach is really deflated and shortened. But we'll do the best we can with it through the summer and hopefully fix it next fall," he added.

Kennon also said he worries the delay would leave the coastline without the additional protection of renourished beaches during hurricane season.

"We don't need a storm with no beach," he said. "That wouldn't be a good combination."