Fairhope’s public beaches north and south of its municipal pier are “starved of sand,” causing erosion problems the city must tackle, according to consultants from South Coast Engineers.
In December 2015, the city contracted with South Coast to develop a management and repair plan for all of its public beaches. The city agreed to pay $15,000, added to an additional $15,000 in federal money, to pay for the contract studying erosion at its beachfront parks around the municipal pier as well as Magnolia Beach and Bluff Park.
At a recent forum in Fairhope, representatives from South Coast Engineers said Fairhope’s sources of sand have traditionally been the bluffs along its coastline and sand washing through gullies and creeks onto the beach. Historically, that sand kept Fairhope’s beach nourished, but engineers said environmental regulations on stormwater controls at the state and federal level have kept that replenishing sand from naturally flowing onto the beach.
The engineering firm will develop a comprehensive survey, which will be used to give the city an inventory of what it has on the beach in order to receive Federal Emergency Management Agency funds in the event of further storm damage at the beach.
The firm will also develop a beach management plan, which will include recommendations for sand placement and vegetation to reduce windblown erosion. Additionally, the firm will develop an erosion monitoring program, allowing the city to periodically survey the beach. Fairhope officials plan to have a public meeting to release the results of the plan when they become available.
“Every time we have storm damages we end up losing some of our beaches,” Fairhope Public Works Director Jennifer Fidler said. “If we have a declared storm, FEMA won’t give us money unless we can show we had damage. We have to have a profile, we have to show we know what’s on our beaches before something happens.”
In the last few years the city has attempted to slow down the erosion, totaling about 5,000 cubic yards of sand placed around the public beaches in the last decade. In the last two years, about 2,500 cubic yards of sand have been placed to prevent the further erosion of the bluff at Magnolia Beach, south of the municipal pier.
Fidler said in the last decade the city dredged the marina at the municipal pier and used that sand to replenish the North Beach Park.
“It was a big mound of sand and it was dark, but after about four weeks the sun and UV rays started to make it lighter,” Fidler said. “We also repaired a jetty on the north end near the wetland pond and that seems to have gained sand. We have repaired spots over the years but we have not spent the money on a new bulkhead.”
Residents offered suggestions, including implementing a usage fee for non-Fairhope residents and removing the Pier Street boat ramp, which some suspect is causing heavy erosion at that site.
In Daphne, the city has experienced similar erosion problems at its May Day Park boat ramp. To combat the issue, the Daphne City Council recently approved a plan to remove the boat ramp. At the time, Mayor Dane Haygood said he knows residents would like to have a boat ramp at the location, but erosion had made the current ramp unusable.