Beach replenishment still a federal project
President’s plan to reduce funding overturned in the House of Representatives
President George W. Bush may not like it, but the federal government will still pay nearly twice as much as local governments for beach replenishment.
The projects have pumped tons of sand onto beaches up and down the East Coast and are handled by the Army Corps of Engineers. The federal government pays 65 percent of the cost of each project, with state and local governments picking up the tab for the remaining 35 percent.
In New Jersey, 75 percent of that 35 percent is customarily paid for by the state, according to Dery Bennett of the American Littoral Society.
"This formula (federal government pays more) is favored by the corps because it gives them more money to play with," Bennett said. "But it is also extremely popular among local officials. After all, they wouldn’t get elected to office by being opposed to (virtually) free sand."
The president had proposed flipping that formula, saying, "This money can be better used elsewhere." But the House of Representatives chose to ignore Bush’s recommendations and instead approved a measure that would almost double the budget for corps projects. The House’s action set aside about $150 million for pumping sand back onto beaches, the largest sum to date.
The measure also calls for restoration of this year’s financing for dozens of programs the White House wanted cut, with any additional money going to pay for such things as flood control programs and sewer projects.
While such programs are popular with local officials who get improvements without spending local revenue, Bennett said he understands the president’s point. "I agree that a reversal in the formula is warranted," he said. "It just doesn’t make any sense for (the federal government) to worry about sand conditions in Long Branch this year."
And the work isn’t popular with everybody because it can mean "destroyed surf and fishing conditions for many area enthusiasts," Bennett said. "We have faced many problems (over the years) with regard to beach replenishment in Sea Bright, Monmouth Beach and Asbury."
The latest sand pumping target to come under scrutiny is Sandy Hook’s "Big Cove" — a mecca for local surfers. "Sandy Hook has been less of a problem because it is considered a recreation area first and foremost. Therefore, some replenishment can be justified. When pumping really becomes an issue is when we are fighting to preserve an area for it’s historic value," Bennett said.
"We need to come up with a more moderate approach for using sand to reduce flooding in the critical zone," he said.
The critical zone is the area where the sea wall ends and erosion typically occurs.
"We all want to keep flooding at bay, but should not pump so much sand that there’s a straight beach for a long stretch," he added.
"Rather than feast or famine, the park system needs to devise a piping system that allows more frequent, but modest replenishment. And I think they are striving to reach some type of solution."
Members of the Surfers Environmental Alliance, SEA, and the Surfrider Foundation met with Rep. Frank J. Pallone Jr. (D-NJ) in Long Branch on Saturday to discuss the issues surrounding Big Cove. "It was a productive session. We believe we made our point well," Brian Unger, regional director of SEA, said.
"From Sandy Hook to Manasquan, seven major (surf) areas are gone," Unger said. "Manasquan Inlet is the only one that comes close to Sandy Hook."
Sandy Hook park officials have said they would like to install a 3-mile long underground pipeline along the beach at "Big Cove" to help ward off flooding by pumping sand northward. This has generated a great deal of controversy among surfers, all of which, park officials said, they are taking into account.
"We have surfers on our own staff and know that ‘Big Cove’ is tremendously valuable," Sandy Hook Superintendent Russel J. Wilson said in a recent statement. "But if the park service doesn’t do something to protect the critical zone, the Hook will become an island and its recreational and cultural facilities to the north may well be lost."