By RYAN LaFONTAINErlafontaine@sunherald.com
BAY ST. LOUIS - The washed-out section of Beach Boulevard from U.S. 90 to Washington Street should be restored by July 2008, state and city officials said Tuesday.
"That area was the heart and soul of our city and we have to get the road back," Bay Mayor Eddie Favre told engineers during a pre-design conference with the state Department of Transportation.
Engineers will spend the next 24 weeks designing the project. Five weeks later, MDOT expects to be ready to solicit job proposals from construction firms willing to do the work, which could begin sometime late next summer.
Federal, state, county and city officials are joining forces to pull off a massive overhaul of the beachfront through Old Town, a job that will require much more than a few loads of dirt and new asphalt. Officials must first overcome daunting challenges.
The work will require officials to get temporary access to private property on the beach side of the road, in order for workers to maneuver heavy equipment.
Eventually there could be a tedious legal process of permanently taking land from beachside property owners from U.S. 90 to Washington Street.
Then there's this: Archaeologists believe they have uncovered evidence of a prehistoric village near the jobsite and road work that could potentially impinge on ancient artifacts could be delayed for up to seven months.
The Corps of Engineers plans to build a $29 million concrete barrier that will run about 6,500 feet from U.S. 90 to Washington Street and stand as high as Beach Boulevard.
Local officials hope to reclaim land from the Bay of St. Louis to rebuild the 30-foot bluff in Old Town.
Because the Federal Highway Administration would fund much of the work, the repairs will need to be done under federal guidelines, which means water and sewer lines that were beneath the old road will have to be moved.
Relocating the lines will force the city to take some private property on the beach side of the street.
When the designs are finalized in about six months, land-acquisition attorney Jack Pittman said, officials should know exactly what private properties the city will need.
Favre is holding on to the city's initial idea of a "land swap" with beachside property owners that would allow the city to take the space needed to widen the road in exchange for the new property the government plans to pump in between the boulevard and the new seawall.
Once work begins, MDOT hopes to obtain temporary easements to allow trucks and tractors to roam freely on beachside private property. In order for MDOT to maintain the bluff, the easements will remain active until the Corps of Engineers completes the seawall. No start date has yet been established.
The ancient village in question, which is believed to date back to the time of Christ, thrived along the shore between Bayview Court and the Bay-Waveland Yacht Club, according to archaeologists.
Experts say the center of the village would have been somewhere around the foot of the bay bridge, south of U.S. 90, where archaeologists have discovered an Indian mound.
"From what I've seen so far, this is a serious archeological site," said Ricky Lee, MDOT district engineer. "When the work starts, you can bet it will be monitored."
If human remains are discovered in the village area, federal law requires the beach repair project to stop while researchers locate and return the sacred discovery to whatever tribe may have occupied the village at that time.
MDOT environmentalist Wes Stafford said if federal funds are used to move the utility lines, the city will need to work with the state Department of Archives and History to lessen the chances of bothering unearthed relics, which could mean launching an all-out archeological dig.
Favre said an archaeological dig could last up to seven months, and he wants county and city engineers to immediately locate all possible areas where the utility lines could be installed so researchers can begin any historic searching now in hopes of being finished by the time MDOT is ready to start the work.