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Mother Nature is winning the battle with Mississippi beaches

Replenishment project, not exposed seawall, is the only way to fix Harrison County beach

Harrison County Sand Beach Director Chuck Loftis explains the problems of maintaining a man-made beach, and why exposing more of the sea wall won’t solve the wind erosion problem.
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Harrison County Sand Beach Director Chuck Loftis explains the problems of maintaining a man-made beach, and why exposing more of the sea wall won’t solve the wind erosion problem.

Chuck Loftis is in a constant battle with Mother Nature.

The Harrison County Sand Beach director is facing another round of repairs after Tropical Storm Cindy caused significant beach erosion in certain areas.

The beach was already in bad shape since the last major replenishment project in 2008, and a storm with high winds in early May made things worse.

It’s not a new problem.

“This has happened since the sand was pumped in there,” Loftis said on Monday.

“This (beach) is man-made; it’s not something that’s natural. Mother Nature didn’t put it there, so it does everything possible to take it away.”

The Sand Beach Department maintains fencing and sea grasses along as much of the beach as possible, and that has proven effective in limiting the sand that is blown onto U.S. 90.

The dunes weren’t any help during Tropical Storm Cindy.

“When we have an event like we had last week, the dune grass isn’t going to do anything for the erosion, because the dune grass is for wind-driven (erosion),” Loftis said. “This was water, wave action.”

The waves eroded the sand all the way to the seawall near Hewes Avenue, and it’s not the first time that’s happened.

That is one of nine spots that will be replenished beginning in October by sucking sand from the Mississippi Sound and pumping it onto the beach. A total of about 300,000 cubic yards will be pumped in, with about 55,000 to 60,000 cubic yards going in near Hewes.

If we have a high-water event, it could undermine the seawall, then you’re going to lose the highway. That’s the primary reason why the sand was pumped in is to protect the seawall.

Chuck Loftis, Harrison County sand beach director

The project will cost between $3 million and $3.5 million dollars.

The goal is to return the beach to 230 feet of sand between the highway and the water. Temporary repairs will be made to the area before the October replenishment project.

In May, Biloxi Mayor Andrew “FoFo” Gilich called for more of the seawall to be exposed as a solution to the wind erosion problem, but Loftis said that won’t work.

“We can’t go nine steps, we can’t go 10 steps,” Loftis said. “If we have a high-water event, it could undermine the seawall, then you’re going to lose the highway. That’s the primary reason why the sand was pumped in, is to protect the seawall.”

“We try to go as much as we can, but Mother Nature in three days with those winds like that (in early May), everything we did in eight months’ time was gone.

“So we have to start all over again. And we’ve got 26 miles.”

Jackson County had two crews working in Ocean Springs and another one patching and cleaning Pascagoula’s beach with 500 cubic yards of sand on Monday.

Crews will remain on Ocean Springs Front Beach all week. It was the most critically damaged by Cindy. There, it’s about replacing sand in three critically washed out spots, where wave action eroded sand all the way to the decorative seawall and boardwalk.

“We’re trying to get that replenished so they will have safe walking conditions on the beach for the long Fourth of July weekend,” county road manager Joe O’Neal said.

County road crews will truck in a total of 2,000 cubic yards of sand to fill holes and even out Front Beach, O’Neal said, at a cost of $180,000. The work in Pascagoula will coast about $90,000.

“It needs more than that, but that’s about all we’re going to be able to haul by Friday,” he said. “Front Beach took a real beating, he said. “It needs about 7,000 to 8,000 cubic yards, but we’re going do what we can before the weekend.”

“It’s going to be in pretty good shape by Friday,” he said.

Hancock County beaches fared much better — not as bad as it could have been, but bad enough.

“We got a little bit lucky,” said road manager Vic Johnson, with debris and dead animals being the biggest problems. The storm “mostly just moved the sand around a bit.”

Johnson said they will reshape the beach once the debris is removed.

Staff reporter Karen Nelson contributed to this report.

John Fitzhugh: 228-896-2193, @JFitzhughPhoto

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