N.J. wins big in federal beach-fill program

Despite a battered economy and a storm of resistance from the White House, it appears that the sand dollars will keep flowing on the nation’s beaches.

The federal beach-fill program is expected to receive more than $100 million in funding in the next year, with New Jersey the big winner.

In the spring, the Office of Management and Budget had balked at putting up money for some of the key U.S. Army Corps of Engineers projects. But aggressive lobbying and backing from coastal-state lawmakers apparently turned the tide, and Congress has agreed on final amounts that will be close to last year’s.

“A lot of us recognized that beach replenishment was vital for our local economy,” said U.S. Rep. John Adler (D., N.J.).

Of the $103.7 million appropriated to keep the sand pumps operating during the fiscal year that began Oct. 1, New Jersey would receive $20.7 million, according to an analysis by Howard Marlowe, the nation’s most-prominent coastal lobbyist.

By far, that would be tops in the nation. Florida would be a distant second, with $14.3 million, even though it has almost 10 times the coastline of New Jersey. Delaware would get $1.3 million, and $945,000 would go to Pennsylvania’s Presque Isle project on Lake Erie.

New Jersey received $23.2 million for fiscal 2009.

In Army Corps projects, the federal government traditionally has paid 65 percent of the costs, with the rest coming from state and local governments.

Typically, the projects are designed to continue for 50 years, with “replenishments” in intervals ranging from two to six years.

The concept of pumping sand on beaches has long been a source of contention between commercial coastal interests and environmentalists.

While its proponents hold that it is essential to the tourism economy, its critics counter that it tends to benefit wealthy property owners, that erosion isn’t an issue until a building is erected in front of the water, and that beach-fill is ultimately futile, given rising sea levels.

“It’s a waste of money,” said Glenn L. Klotz, a local activist who lives in Margate. “The problem is, we built too close to the ocean. Is the solution putting all this sand endlessly in front of these structures at taxpayers’ expense?”

“The beaches are everything to the economy of the coastal areas,” said Scott Wahl, spokesman for the borough of Avalon.

Just more than $1 million of the fiscal 2010 money would go to the Avalon and Stone Harbor beaches.

A total of $6.1 million would fund a project at the north end of Ocean City. “It’s great news for Ocean City, because our north end beaches have really taken a beating in the last two years,” said Jim Rutala, the town’s business administrator.

Long Beach Island would receive $4.8 million, and Long Beach Township Mayor Joseph H. Mancini wishes it were more. “It’s never enough,” he said, “but we’re grateful for getting what we did.”

He said the money would be used to pay for part of a 5,000-foot replenishment project in Brant Beach, expected to cost between $7.5 million and $9 million. Mancini said that the project is “ready to go” and that the township is accepting bids on it.

Overall, Marlowe, whose office is in Washington, said he was pleased with the outcome of the beach appropriations, especially given the Office of Management and Budget resistance early on.

Today, he was on his way to meet fellow lobbyists at an American Shore and Beach Preservation Association conference in Florida.

Said Marlowe: “I’m going to have some good news, for once.”

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