(JACKSON, Miss.) – The Mississippi Department of Environmental Quality (MDEQ) and the Mississippi Department of Marine Resources (MDMR) are warning boaters to stay clear of the Round Island Marsh Restoration construction project near Pascagoula due to loose materials that could be dangerous if walked on.
The initial phase of marsh creation at Round Island is expected to be completed this weekend. A sand berm was created and filled with dredge spoils from the Pascagoula Channel as the initial step in creating a new marsh habitat for the Mississippi Coast. The majority of the material in the area is very loose, and although there are areas that appear to be solid surfaces, it is where the top material is crusted over and remains very dangerous underneath. All of the area inside of the berm can be very dangerous and is not intended for public use at this time. Round Island remains an active construction site and is posted as such (Danger – Construction Area – Keep Out). Until the material inside of the berm dries out and can hold the weight of a person, public access to the island is off limits.
The $8 million sand berm is being funded as part of the $21 million project from Round Two of the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation’s (NFWF) Gulf Environmental Benefit Fund awarded to Mississippi and announced by Governor Phil Bryant in November of 2014. NFWF’s Gulf Environmental Benefit Fund was created as part of the settlement between the U.S. Department of Justice, BP, and Transocean to resolve certain criminal charges against both companies in relation to the spill.
The Round Island project is part of NFWF’s Utilization of Dredge Material for Marsh Restoration Project which identifies Beneficial Use (BU) material from dredging activities and then finds suitable sites to receive that BU material to restore marsh in areas that have seen degradation over the past decades and especially where affected by the Deepwater Horizon oil spill. The overall project includes plans for sites in all three coastal counties.
A unique situation developed in the Mississippi Sound which presented a perfect opportunity for Mississippi to increase the marsh acreage adjacent to Round Island. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers added the Port of Pascagoula to its list of sites to be dredged, and the Mississippi Department of Marine Resources had previously obtained the appropriate permits for construction adjacent to Round Island. Through a Memorandum of Understanding the state, local, and federal agencies designed a plan for MDEQ, with oversight aid from MDMR, to construct a protective berm adjacent to Round Island, within the boundaries of the MDMR permit.