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From the Mobile Register Copyright 2003

Restoring Mon Luis
Foundation raises $67,000 for wetlands project

MON LUIS ISLAND, AL - Dec. 3, 2003 - The peninsula that juts up from the south between Fowl River and Mobile Bay used to be filled each summer with young, fingernail-sized shrimp, tiny speckled trout, clams and cord grass stems so thick with snails they buckled into the murky water. But for more than 25 years, a layer of mud at least two feet thick - soil from boat channel dredging by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers - has shut these species out from the former wetland.

The Alabama Coastal Foundation, a nonprofit conservation organization, announced Tuesday it has raised more than $67,000 to remove the muck and restore a 5-acre swath of tidal wetlands at the northernmost point of Mon Luis Island in south Mobile County.

The group plans to use that money, as well as volunteer help from local engineering firms and hundreds of individual volunteers, to:

  • Remove tons of dredge spoil. The boggy dirt will be used to form a sand wall along the peninsula's eastern edge, designed to protect the vulnerable area from tides and storm surge.
  • Remove thousands of "common reed" plants from the land. The tall, white-topped reed grows naturally in local river uplands but it wouldn't have been as abundant in natural salt marsh wetlands.
  • Replace the reeds with more typical salt marsh species - black needle rush, smooth cord grass and salt meadow cord grass.

The group plans to have the job done in about six months.

"The area is a good 2 feet higher than it needs to be. We want to lower it to the appropriate elevation for a tidal wetland again," said Barry Vittor, an Alabama Coastal Foundation board member and president of the Mobile environmental engineering company Barry A. Vittor & Associates Inc.

Vittor said he plans to volunteer his company's expertise and labor for the enterprise. That will include designing the entire restoration project as well as bringing the heavy machinery necessary to remove the muck, Vittor said.

Shell Oil Co. donated $25,000, and the group used that money as a match to get an additional $42,000 grant from the nonprofit Gulf of Mexico Foundation, said Buzz Sierke, the project's site manager. Sierke owns Gothic Arch Greenhouses, a Mobile company that builds greenhouses. Sierke said he will supervise the planting of the wetland species.

"This project is unique in Mobile Bay because we are restoring this area, not because we are required to do it but because it's the right thing to do," Sierke said. Most wetland restoration projects are undertaken by businesses required to do so because they have filled in wetlands elsewhere, he said.

The peninsula has lost 75 feet from its entire eastern shore - several acres - since it was last used for dredge material dumping in 1979, Vittor said.

Vittor said some have raised concerns that the peninsula may wash away even more quickly if the dredge material is removed.

"But the real reason it's eroding is the eastern dune is gone, and we're replacing that dune with a berm," Vittor said. The dune protected the wetland for years until the dredge material disrupted the water and soil-exchange patterns of the peninsula, he said.

The Alabama Coastal Foundation, a nonprofit membership organization, was established in the spring of 1993. The group's programs include the Mississippi-Alabama SeaGrant Consortium, Coast Conservation Association, Gulf Fishery Banks, U.S. Rep. Gene Taylor's office and the Gulf Ecological Management Sites program.

A second grant being pursued through the Fish America Foundation may see a similar reef planted in the Back Bay of Biloxi, near the DMR offices.

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