BAY ST. LOUIS — The Bay St. Louis seawall is not meant for public access but to protect the road and utilities from hurricanes, according to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.
Susan Rees, manager of the Corps’ Mississippi Coastal Improvement Program, tells the Sea Coast Echo the $19 million seawall is not a stairwell to the beach although some people may think it is.
Wire fencing runs along the top of the 6,500-foot structure, blocking access to the few handrails running down to the beach.
Instead of being used as a handhold, the railing is placed at every change in seawall elevation to prevent people from falling off, Rees said.
Currently there are no plans to make the beach accessible, she said.
. “We know people will try to access it. We put wire fencing so people would not fall,” Rees said. “There were safety reasons not to provide public access.”
The beach below is not a recreation area but a functional part of the seawall that protects the foundation, just as the beach along U.S. Highway 90 is designed to protect the roadway, she said.
Mayor Les Fillingame said he believes the city will be able to install more access points when the Corps hands over the project.
“Once they completely finish, they turn it over to us,” he said. “Then we can do retrofit projects as long as it doesn’t affect functionality.”
Depending on the height, the seawall is composed of about 15 stadium style steps, each with a one-foot rise and two-foot tread.
Fillingame said more code friendly steps could be installed to make the beach access easier. He said any additions would be at the city’s expense and with the Corps approval.
“We will come up with a solution, whether it’s an infield step or an overlay step,” he said. “We definitely owe it to the public to have some accessibility points.”
In a separate item, the Mississippi Department of Environmental Quality has issued a closure for a portion of Bay St. Louis beach.
Authorities detected the possibility of high bacteria levels and dangerous conditions caused by beach re-nourishment efforts in the area. Officials say dredges that are being used can release bacteria from the floor of the Mississippi Sound.
MDEQ said it would lift the closure after the re-nourishment activities have been completed and water samples show that bacteria levels are safe for human contact.