Restoration of Alabama’s Lightning Point nearly complete
Work to restore and preserve one of Alabama’s most iconic and important coastal habitats is wrapping up as planners shift their focus to building trails, boat ramps and a pavilion at the site.
The Nature Conservancy in Alabama (TNCA) said heavy construction at Lightning Point in Bayou La Batre is almost complete. Judy Haner, Marine Program director, said contractors finished this phase of the project two months ahead of schedule.
“The contractors really went above and beyond,” Haner said. “The great thing about working with really good contractors is they know how to do it and to do it right. They found ways to do a couple of things at the same time, so it saved us time and made this project progress faster than what we thought.”
Contractors installed two jetties at the mouth of the channel and 1.5 miles of overlapping, segmented breakwaters along both sides of the navigation channel. The breakers provide a buffer from waves and boat wakes while the jetties help maintain access for all types of vessels, including commercial shrimp boats and recreational bay boats.
“The project was about more than the habitats,” Haner said. “It was about how those habitats supported the fisheries and the livelihoods, how the breakwaters protect the entry to Bayou La Batre, this fishing hamlet on the coast of Mississippi Sound. That is the biggest win for me.”
TNCA 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. As the project got underway, additional support was provided by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the Gulf of Mexico Energy Security Act, CITGO, Restore America’s Estuaries, the Alabama Bicentennial Commission, the city of Bayou La Batre, Mobile County, Dauphin Island Sea Lab, Mobile Bay National Estuary Program, Partners for Environmental Progress, UAB, Embrace the Gulf 2020, Alabama Law Enforcement Agency, Alma Bryant High School and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. Haner said construction was handled by engineers and contractors at Moffatt & Nichol, GEC, J & W Marine, Magnolia Dredge & Dock, Wildlife Solutions and Hydroterra.
“When we first started this project and we saw this schematic our engineer firm, Moffatt & Nichol, came up with, we all thought, ‘Doesn’t that sound good? It looks good. It’s pretty on paper, but can we really build it?’” Haner said. “What we’ve seen is we have. We’ve watched that transformation over time and what’s really cool is the community has watched that transformation over time and they are excited.”
In addition to the breakwaters and jetties, the project created 40 acres of coastal habitats ranging from marshes to tidal creeks, scrub-shrubs and shell hash beaches that support a wide range of fish, shellfish and birds.
“We’re really excited about the diversity of the habitats we’ve been able to create at this project,” Haner said. “The wildlife we’ve seen over on the west side – otters, alligators and, in our tidal creeks, we have schools of minnows that have come in and are already using areas that don’t have the habitat fully set yet. So if you will build it, it looks like they will come.”
The project got its first test in June when Tropical Storm Cristobal made landfall in Louisiana, dumping lots of rain and generating a 4-foot storm surge at the new breakwaters. Haner said the breakwaters performed as designed.
“Four feet of water came over the top of these breakwaters, but it held up like a champ,” Haner said.
As TNCA moves into the monitoring phase, Haner said its team is working with partners to construct and install multiple public access amenities at Lightning Point, including a new boat ramp, an ADA-compliant viewing platform, trails and pavilion.
“What we’re doing now is we’re trying to line up the contracts, which will be super-exciting,” Haner said. “We’re really looking at big things happening down here still, even though the major part of the construction is done.”
All of the amenities are scheduled to be complete by the end of 2020.
“The best thing about Lightning Point was how it brought the community together,” Haner said. “Everything that we heard from the community we were able to input and implement within this project. It’s really exciting.”
(Courtesy of Alabama NewsCenter)