Gilich touts sand beach ideas for chamber audience

Mayor Andrew “FoFo” Gilich this morning told a Biloxi Chamber of Commerce audience that this week he had one of the most productive meetings since becoming mayor two years ago.

Gilich was referring to a meeting Tuesday when he exchanged sand control philosophies with a group of university academicians in a meeting coordinated by legendary Biloxi businessman Victor Mavar.

“We have spent too much time and money on the issue of sand erosion and sand blowing across Highway 90,” Gilich told those gathered this morning for “Breakfast with the Mayor” at Hard Rock Hotel and Casino.

The mayor also discussed the city’s initiative to restore downtown Biloxi and efforts to use pre-cast material to speed up infrastructure work in downtown Biloxi, but it was his “sand summit” on Tuesday morning that dominated his remarks. The city, he said, has spent about half a million dollars removing sand from U.S. 90 in the past couple of years.

“We haven’t really solved the problem, and the cost keeps rising,” he said after his speech. “We have to find a better solution than spending millions of dollars every few years to pump in more sand that only ends up on the highway, clogging our drains and creating road hazards.”

Gilich first suggested a new approach to sand control upon his election two years ago. His ongoing dialogue with beach erosion experts and scientists spurred Mavar to set up Tuesday’s meeting with university marine scientists from USM and Mississippi State University CoDirector of the Center for Sustainable Design, Pete Melby.

“Pete was asked to look at solutions to sand control years ago and devised a plan that uses sea oats to catch the blowing sand and keep it off the highway,” explained Mavar, who now plans to set up a meeting with county leaders.

Melby designed a model program in east Biloxi, but it was only partially completed. His model included adjacent but disconnected horizontal patches of seat oats, which were to be placed across the beach at prescribed intervals and was backed by trenches that would collect the blowing sand after it was caught. The sea oat patches were installed but the necessary trenches were never dug, so the sand filtered through the sea oats and was carried across the top of the beach onto the highway by the wind.

“It’s a design that will solve the problem if installed correctly,” Melby told the meeting group, which also included USM scientists Dr. William “Monty” Graham, director of the School of Ocean Science and Technology, Dr. Kelly Lucas, director of the Thad Cochran Marine Agriculture Center,  and Dr. Davin Wallace, assistant professor of the Department of Marine Scientist.

Gilich told the group that he believed science could better solve the issue of blowing sand and beach replenishment than the current plan of dumping millions of dollars of new sand on the beach every few years. He asked Melby and the USM scientists to work together to craft a model plan that could be tested in a couple areas of Biloxi beachfront. He also asked them to utilize a lower beach profile in the design, and reposition excess sand to widen the beach rather than having to buy new sand.

“I want to thank Victor Mavar for connecting us with Pete, whose plan makes sense,” Gilich said. “We’ve asked Peter and our friends at USM to coordinate a plan for a test model that we will establish in a couple areas. I’m excited about the potential for this collaboration to produce a more sustainable and economic plan of beach control.”
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See images from the inaugural sand summit