State of the Beach/State Reports/AL/Beach Fill

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Alabama Ratings
Indicator Type Information Status
Beach Access37
Water Quality75
Beach Erosion6-
Erosion Response-2
Beach Fill4-
Shoreline Structures2 5
Beach Ecology1-
Surfing Areas35
Website3-



Policies

State, Territory, and Commonwealth Beach Nourishment Programs, A National Overview (NOAA, March 2000) provides the following information:

State Nourishment Policy

Alabama has a coastal management program encouragement policy for beach nourishment.

Policy Citation and Description

Alabama Coastal Area Management Plan, January 1999. Section 4, Erosion Policy Statement. This policy encourages: the beneficial use of sand and sediment for beach nourishment purposes when dredging for ports, harbors, and waterways; the development of a comprehensive shoreline management plan to reduce and manage erosion; the use of beach sand bypass systems in dredged areas where hardened shoreline stabilization structures exist; and, to develop strategies and plans that work within the littoral system and that meet coastal infrastructure needs.

Alabama Department of Environmental Management (ADEM) Rules and Regulations - Division 8 Coastal Area Management Program. Ala. Admin. Code r. 335-8-1-.09. This requires that all federally permitted/licensed beach nourishment projects are consistent with the policies of the Alabama Coastal Area Management Plan.

Related Policies

Near Shore Sand Mining Regulations

Alabama Coastal Area Management Plan, January 1999. Section 4, Mining and Mineral Resource Extraction Policy Statement. This policy encourages mining operations, and directly related development, engaged in the extraction and/or processing of construction sand, industrial sand, gravel, and other minerals to avoid hydrologically sensitive areas, including oyster reefs, submerged grassbeds and other productive shallow water areas, with the exception of those activities related to beach nourishment and shoreline stabilization.

ADEM Rules and Regulations - Division 8 Coastal Area Management Program. Ala. Admin. Code r. 335-8-2-.08. No person shall remove primary dune or beach sands and/or vegetation or otherwise alter the primary dune system, construct any new structure, or make any substantial improvement to any existing structure, on, beneath or above the surface of any land located between mean high tide and the construction control line. The mining of sand from the area between the construction control line and mean high tide is prohibited under these program rules.

Dredge and Fill Regulations

ADEM Rules and Regulations - Division 8 Coastal Area Management Program. Ala. Admin. Code r. 335-8-2-.02. This regulation prohibits dredging and filling activities in close proximity to existing natural oyster beds and existing submerged grass beds. In order for an activity to be permitted or certified it must meet water quality standards and the dredging and/or filling of adjacent and non-adjacent wetlands must meet stringent regulations.

Sand Scraping/Dune Reshaping Regulations

ADEM Rules and Regulations - Division 8 Coastal Area Management Program. Ala. Admin. Code r. 335-8-2-.08. No person shall remove primary dune or beach sands and/or vegetation or otherwise alter the primary dune system, construct any new structure, or make any substantial improvement to any existing structure, on, beneath or above the surface of any land located between mean high tide and the construction control line. As such, sand scraping and dune reshaping is prohibited under these program rules.

Dune Creation/Restoration Regulations

ADEM Rules and Regulations - Division 8 Coastal Area Management Program. Ala. Admin. Code r. 335-8-2-.08. No person shall remove primary dune or beach sands and/or vegetation or otherwise alter the primary dune system, construct any new structure, or make any substantial improvement to any existing structure, on, beneath or above the surface of any land located between mean high tide and the construction control line. However, properly designed beach and dune nourishment projects which add appropriate beach quality sand materials to the beach and dune system seaward of the construction control line are considered to be beneficial to the overall health of the system. Dune enhancement projects which utilize clean beach quality sand from upland sources normally require, and are regularly granted, written authorization from the ADEM Coastal Programs. This authorization is conditioned to minimize vehicular access and also to ensure that damage to vegetation is repaired and sand fencing is placed to help stabilize the dunes.

Alabama Coastal Area Management Plan, January 1999. Section 3, Beach and Dune System Policy Statement. Dune creation and expansion and removal of fixed structures that contribute to shoreline erosion is encouraged. The maintenance of the natural attributes of beach and dune systems in the Alabama coastal areas and assurance of adequate public access is encouraged.

Public Access Regulations

Alabama Coastal Area Management Plan, January 1999. Section 3, Shoreline Resources Policy Statement. It is the policy of the Management Program to encourage increased shoreline public access to the coastal waters for commercial and recreational users. Section 3, Beach and Dune Systems Policy Statement. It is the policy of the Management Program to preserve and enhance the public access to those beaches that are important for shoreline stability, recreational potential, and tourism.

Beach Nourishment Funding Program

There is no state nourishment funding program, but the Army Corps of Engineers is encouraged to place sand on downdrift side when dredging inlets at Perdito Pass and Dauphin Island at Government Cut.

Projects Impacting Waterbottoms or Wetlands

Projects which include potential impacts to waterbottoms or the dredging and/or filling of wetlands will require permits and/or certifications from ADEM, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE), and, in some instances, the State Oil and Gas Board, and/or the ALDCNR-State Lands Division.

The ADEM review of these types of projects is normally initiated when the property owner makes application to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.

Some of these projects, such as the construction of residential piers and projects involving minimal wetlands impacts, may be permitted under a pre-certified USACE General or Nationwide Permit and will not require further review by the Department.

Many projects will require an Individual Permit from the USACE, which will be jointly reviewed by the USACE and ADEM concurrently. This includes:

  • Marinas, including the expansion of existing marinas
  • Beach nourishment projects
  • Major dredging projects
  • Projects involving more than minimal impacts to wetlands


Regional Sediment Management

Inlet management plans and regional sediment management planning are mechanisms that enable disposal of dredged materials to be conducted so as to provide some local hazard protection or to replace hazard protection lost during storms such as done with the Perdido Pass navigation project with a new disposal site in a beach area.

The following information regarding Regional Sediment Management in the northern Gulf of Mexico was found on the website of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Mobile District:

"In the past, the US Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) has focused on managing sand at coastal projects on a project-by-project basis. This approach to sand management may not adequately consider the impact of individual projects on down drift projects. To address this issue, the USACE has initiated efforts to assess the benefits of managing sediment resources as a regional scale resource rather than a localized project resource. The concept of Regional Sediment Management (RSM) is a result of the 67th meeting of the Coastal Engineering Research Board (CERB) held in May 1998.

In October 1999, the US Army Engineer District, Mobile (SAM), initiated the USACE Northern Gulf of Mexico Regional Sediment Management Demonstration Program. The goal of the demonstration program is to change the paradigm of project specific management to focusing on a regional approach in which the USACE as well as state and local agencies stop managing projects and begin "managing the sand." The objectives of the demonstration program are:

  • Implement Regional Sediment Management Practices;
  • Improve Economic Performance by Linking Projects;
  • Development of New Engineering Techniques to Optimize/Conserve Sediment;
  • Determine Bureaucratic Obstacles to Regional Sediment Management; and
  • Manage in Concert with the Environment.


The SAM demonstration region is bounded by the St. Marks River, Florida, to the east and the Pearl River, MS to the west. The region encompasses approximately 375-miles of coastal shoreline including the MS Barrier Islands. The region includes 14 major Federal projects (Panacea Harbor, Carrabelle Harbor, Apalachicola Bay, Port St. Joe Harbor, Panama City Harbor/St. Andrew Bay Entrance, East Pass, Pensacola Pass, Perdido Pass, Mobile Bay Entrance/Dauphin Island, Bayou La Batre, Pascagoula Harbor, Biloxi Harbor, Gulfport Harbor, and Pass Christian Harbor), the Panama City Beach Nourishment project, eight State parks, the Gulf Islands National Seashore, Eglin and Tyndall Air Force Bases, Pensacola Naval Air Station, Naval Station Pascagoula, Keesler Air force Base, Gulfport Naval Sea Bee Base, and the Supervisor of Shipbuilding, Conversion, and Repair, USN Gulf Coast, as well as many cities and counties. To accomplish the RSM goal, it is essential that partnering and coordination with agencies interested in the management of this coastal region be achieved.

The product of the RSM demonstration program is a Regional Sediment Management Plan consisting of a calibrated regional sediment budget, a calibrated numerical regional prediction system, and a regional data management and Geographic Information System. These tools will assist in making management decisions and increase benefits resulting from improved sand management throughout the region."


The report Historical Changes in the Mississippi-Alabama Barrier-Island Chain and the Roles of Extreme Storms, Sea Level, and Human Activities by Robert A. Morton of the U.S. Geological Survey (2007) discusses natural and human-caused factors influencing erosion of barrier islands off the coasts of Alabama (Dauphin Island) and Mississippi. The report advocates for the use of dredged material on adjacent barrier islands:

"The only factor that has a historical trend that coincides with the progressive increase in rates of land loss is the progressive reduction in sand supply associated with nearly simultaneous deepening of channels dredged across the outer bars of the three tidal inlets maintained for deep-draft shipping. [...] The reduction in sand supply related to disruption of the alongshore sediment transport system is the only factor contributing to land loss that can be managed directly. This can be accomplished by placing dredged material so that the adjacent barrier island shores receive it for island nourishment and rebuilding."


In fact, Alabama is the only Gulf Coast state that does not have legislation requiring the Corps to put the beach quality sand dredged from navigation channels on the adjacent eroding beach. To address this, Alabama House Bill 236 was introduced in the legislature in February 2016. It would require:

All beach quality sand dredged during construction and maintenance of navigation channels shall be placed on the adjacent beaches or at a suitable nearshore location to assure the sand is incorporated into the natural littoral drift system to prevent beach erosion. If the dredged sand is placed elsewhere, an equivalent quality and quantity of substitute sand from an alternate location shall be placed on the adjacent downdrift beaches.


Inventory

One of the earliest extensive beach nourishment projects undertaken in the U.S. was in Harrison County, Alabama, in the 1950s.

There was a Federally-funded beach fill project at Dauphin Island in 1996 that was part of a federal navigation project. Cost: $55,000. More recently (2015) , the East End Restoration Project was approved, which will add 300 cubic yards of beach coupled with a reorientation of the off-shore jetties to be more parallel with the island, designed to provide a better level of protection. Apparently this is the same project described here, a $7 million dollar project. In addition, through the RESTORE Act, Alabama’s Gulf Coast Recovery Council is expected to allocate $599 million toward a variety of proposed projects from among hundreds that have already been submitted for consideration. So far, Dauphin Island itself has submitted three separate proposals, the most expensive of which is a $58.6 million restoration project on West End Beach. If funded, that plan would widen the beach to its natural elevation and install a dune system using an offshore sediment source.

Beach fill projects to reduce future damages from storms have been conducted at Gulf Shores and Orange Beach.

For the Gulf Shores project in 2001, about 1.7 million cubic yards of sand were pumped along several miles of beach in the central business district of Gulf Shores. After pumping, sand fencing was built and dune vegetation was planted along the back of the new beach. The sand source was an ancient sand deposit found about a mile offshore of the beach. In terms of grain size and color, the new sand matches the native beach sand very closely. There appear to be more seashell fragments distributed in the new sand than were present in the native beach sands. As part of the design of the beach nourishment project, the City of Gulf Shores is now monitoring the behavior of the new sand. Monitoring is a vital part of a sound beach restoration plan. One year after construction, careful monitoring surveys found 100% of the new sand. In April 2002, the beaches were, on average, about 160 feet wider and some of them were over 240 feet wider than before nourishment. There were about 70 more acres of dry sand beach than before nourishment. Some of the new sand has moved out into the nearshore sand bar system. This expected shift has reduced the dry beach width and dry beach area since construction was completed. The sand bar system is part of the beach system.

A $13.2 million beach fill project was scheduled to start at Laguna Key on West Beach in Gulf Shores in early October 2012 and finish at the Alabama-Florida line in January 2013. The project was designed to repair damage done to the beaches by Hurricanes Gustav and Ike in September 2008, and Ida in November 2009. The restoration project includes Orange Beach and the Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources and Gulf State Park. The city will be responsible for about $1.1 million of the $13.2 million. The Federal Emergency Management Agency will pay 75 percent of the costs and the Alabama Emergency Management Agency will pay 10 percent. Orange Beach’s share is estimated at $650,000.

Information from the Western Carolina University website mentioned below indicates that eight beach fill projects were completed in Alabama between 1986 and 2003.

Information on beach fill in Alabama is also available through Western Carolina University's Program for the Study of Developed Shorelines. State-by-state information is available from the pull-down menu or by clicking on a state on the map on this page.

In 2017 the American Shore and Beach Preservation Association (ASBPA) announced a new online National Beach Nourishment Database – featuring data on projects comprised of nearly 1.5 billion cubic yards of sand placed in nearly 400 projects covering the continental U.S. coastline. In addition to the total volume and the number of projects, the database includes the number of nourishment events, the oldest project, the newest project, the known total cost, the total volume and the known length. The information is broken into both state statistics and those of local or regional projects. Every coastal continental state is included (so Alaska and Hawaii are still being compiled), and projects along the Great Lakes are similarly waiting to be added.

A report National Assessment of Beach Nourishment Requirements Associated with Accelerated Sea Level Rise (Leatherman, 1989) on EPA's Climate Change Impacts and Adapting to Climate Change websites notes that the cumulative cost of sand replenishment to protect Alabama's coast from a 50 to 200 cm rise in sea level by 2100 is estimated at $59 million to $260 million.

The Fiscal Year 2017 Civil Works Budget for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers provides $4.62 billion in gross discretionary funding for the Civil Works program. This budget lists proposed projects and the associated budget justification by state.

State, Territory, and Commonwealth Beach Nourishment Programs: A National Overview (2000) is a report NOAA/OCRM that provides an overview of the problem of beach erosion, various means of addressing this problem, and discusses issues regarding the use of beach nourishment. Section 2 of the report provides an overview of state, territorial, and commonwealth coastal management policies regarding beach nourishment and attendant funding programs. Appendix B provides individual summaries of 33 beach nourishment programs and policies.



State of the Beach Report: Alabama
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