Now even more of Cat Island belongs to the residents of Mississippi as sand is being pumped night and day onto the East Beach to restore it to its pre-1998 size and appearance.
Secretary of State Delbert Hosemann held a press conference on the island Friday to show how a dredge 1.5 miles off the coast is pumping 50,000 cubic yards of sand a day onto the beach — about 2 million cubic yards total — adding about 40 acres. Two crews are working 7 days a week, 24 hours a day to complete the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers renourishment project by mid-October.
Once that work is done, sand fencing will be installed and dune vegetation will be planted beginning in November.
“Now it’s back like it was probably 30 years ago,” Hosemann said as he looked at the long stretch of sand beach where the Tarpon Club once stood at Goose Point.
“We are so pleased to have over two-thirds of this island now owned by the people of Mississippi,” he said.
Hosemann announced in December that a chunk of the island, 8 miles off the coast of Gulfport, was purchased from BP for $13.7 million, but at no cost to the state. The $16 million renourishment project is funded by Mississippi Coastal Improvements Barrier Island Restoration Plan, also at no cost to the state.
When the work is complete the island will remain pristine, Hosemann said. Covenants provide that if any development is proposed on the island, “Any citizen in the state of Mississippi can object,” he said.
Time and weather had left just a piece of island when Manson Construction, based in Seattle, arrived to begin work. Hosemann said the beach is now 3.5 miles long and 250 feet wide, and a lot of thought was put into the project, right down to the color of the sand.
“The wrong color sand and we don’t have turtles,” he said.
Susan Rees with the Army Corps of Engineers in Mobile said sand that is too dark would increase the temperature of the turtle nests and produce female turtles. Matching the color of the sand with what was on the island produces about a 50/50 mix of males and females, she said.
About 11 turtle nests were relocated out of the way of construction, she said.
She’s spent 10 of her 37 years in the Corps working on plans for Cat Island, starting in January 2016, just months after Hurricane Katrina.
“I never had the thought that we would be able to do something so significant,” she said.
The island has a colorful history as a hideout for pirates and smugglers during Prohibition and even has a Smuggler’s Cove. It also is important to the Mississippi Sound ecosystem and protecting the residents of South Mississippi.
“These islands serve, as we call them, as a speed bump,” she said of the barrier islands off the Coast of Mississippi. Cat Island was under water during Hurricane Katrina, she said, but the islands lessen the wave action from less powerful storm on the coastal cities. “What really impacts these islands are the lower level storms we get all the time,” she said.
While the concept of adding sand to the southeast side of the island was conceived post-Katrina and identified as a good idea, said Jamie Miller, executive director of the Mississippi Department of Marine Resources, “It took us 12 years to get to this point.”
Lots of local fishermen wade fish on that side of the island, he said, and owners of small boats will be able to anchor offshore and enjoy the beach.
“This sand is as white and as pretty as any sand beach in the country,” he said.
“This is Mississippi’s property,” said state Rep. Sonya Williams-Barnes as she stood in the sand. “I hope the residents of our state get to enjoy it.”