Construction continues on critical Alabama shoreline protection project

Construction continues on critical Alabama shoreline protection project
Restoration and preservation of Bayou La Batre's Lightning Point continues. (contributed)

Construction continues on a new barrier to restore and preserve Bayou La Batre‘s Lightning Point, one of Alabama’s most iconic and important coastal habitats.

The Nature Conservancy in Alabama (TNCA) says contractors have finished installing 1.5 miles of breakwaters around the mouth of Bayou La Batre’s navigation channel, creating a new coastal barrier on both sides of the channel to protect the shoreline from the effects of storms. TNCA says contractors used 51,000 tons of rock to build the breakwaters and jetties, pumped more than 275,000 cubic yards of dredged material to fill the marsh creation areas and planted more than 13,000 plants so far.

“We are extremely excited about how far we have come,” said Judy Haner, Marine Program director for TNCA. “Our contractors have been really dynamic. They’ve figured out how to do parts of this project in concert instead of in sequence, so we’ve been able to get this thing really rolling. The contractors have had as much fun on this project as we have.”

Repairs and preservation of Bayou la Batre’s Lightning Point continue from Alabama NewsCenter on Vimeo.

Bayou La Batre is called “Alabama’s Seafood Capital,” and a large reason is the shrimping industry. Hundreds of boats hit the water each season to catch the tasty crustaceans, favored by chefs all over the country. But major events, such as the BP oil spill and Hurricane Katrina, damaged the shoreline and affected shrimping in the area.

“The goal is to help restore the lost coastal habitats that once benefited the people that rely on these natural resources,” said Mary Kate Brown, Coastal Projects manager for The Nature Conservancy. “The people of Bayou La Batre are connected to their coast and frequent the current area by birdwatching, scenic viewing, kayaking, boating, fishing, taking a lunch break; this is their community’s front porch and the gateway to the bayou.”

Explore a 360° Rendering of the Lighting Point Project
The Nature Conservancy broke ground on the restoration project in April 2019 after securing support from public agencies and private organizations, including the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation, the Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources and Alabama Power. In addition to the breakwaters and jetties, the project will create 40 acres of coastal habitats ranging from marshes, tidal creeks, scrub-shrubs and shell hash beaches that support a wide range of fish, shellfish and birds. Brown says many birds and other wildlife are closely watching construction crews.

“Birds have taken to the breakwaters as an oasis, especially the least terns, and this is perfect timing as nesting season is here,” Brown said. “We also have seen ibis, oyster catchers, black skimmers, avocets, dunlins, whimbrels, and more foraging and utilizing the new habitats and fill areas.”

Other improvements planned for Lightning Point include walking paths, a lookout point, an ADA fishing platform and a low-impact parking lot employing green infrastructure techniques, such as pervious pavers, bioretention cells and bioswales to aid in stormwater management.

“It is amazing at what is happening at Lightning Point,” Haner said. “We are actually transforming this community along with the site. It’s really exciting and every time we’re down here, we get to talk with the community and see how excited they are.”

Crews will complete the construction work towards the end of this summer, but the new plants in the marsh and scrub-shrub habitats will need another three to four years to establish and grow to reach appropriate density.

“Once construction is complete, we will be annually monitoring both structural and biological integrity of the Lightning Point restoration project for five years,” Brown said. “We will go out and and measure how the plants are thriving, and we will collect elevation and shoreline position data across the new coastal habitats to make sure the breakwaters are doing its job of protecting the community of Bayou La Batre.”

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