SUBMITTED — One of Dauphin Island’s four public beaches remains closed as spring breakers head to the barrier island, but Mayor Jeff Collier said the rest of the resort town is “up and running.”
“We’re all set for spring break,” Collier said. “Our visitors have three other public beaches to go to, and except for repairs at West End Beach and the public pier near Fort Gaines, everything’s up and running.”
Dauphin Island sustained between $6 million and $8 million in damage in early October, when Hurricane Nate struck the central Gulf Coast. Contractors have scraped several feet of sand off of West Bienville Boulevard and have sifted and moved most of the sand back onto the beach.
Now contractors are repairing side streets and the pavement at the end of Bienville Boulevard, after which they will rebuild the parking lot at the public beach and replace the sand there that was scoured away by the hurricane.
“Our priority was getting Bienville cleared so there would be access for emergency vehicles, contractors and people who live or rent homes in that area,” Collier said.
It took nearly six weeks for the Federal Emergency Management Agency to designate five counties in Alabama as disaster areas. The designation means that Dauphin Island will be eligible for up to 85 percent reimbursement for Nate-related repairs to public facilities.
“The federal and state cost share on damages is critically important to our fiscal stability following such a disaster,” Collier said. “However, it’s also a factor in how long the repairs are taking. If you apply for financial assistance, you’ve got to play by their rules.”
He said he is optimistic that West End Beach will be open by Memorial Day. Meanwhile, visitors can use East End Beach, which is free of charge, or the public beaches beside Dauphin Island Elementary School and at Isle Dauphine Country Club, both of which charge parking fees.
Dauphin Island is a popular spring break destination for people looking to “get away from it all,” the mayor said. “We cater to families with children. We offer a relaxing, family friendly experience in a very charming, old-fashioned setting.”
Vacationers had already begun to descend upon the town, but spring break began in earnest Monday, March 12, for students at the University of Alabama, Auburn University, Troy University, Ole Miss and the University of Southern Mississippi.
Coastal Alabama Community College students will celebrate spring break the week of March 19. They will be followed by Baldwin County public schools, the University of South Alabama, Bishop State Community College and LSU students during the week of March 26. Mobile County public schools and Mobile area Catholic schools will close the week of April 2.