Renewed hope for beach replenishment

Bethany Beach’s bid to maximize the town’s influence in federal budgeting matters may have paid off after all.

The Bethany Beach-South Bethany project area did not receive a single penny of federal funding for beach reconstruction in the U.S. House of Representatives version of the Energy and Water Appropriations Bill for the 2006 fiscal year. It was also left penniless in President George W. Bush’s proposed budget.

But the Senate version of the bill, which moved forward from the body’s appropriations committee June 16, contained some $4 million for the planned major beach reconstruction project in the two towns, according to representatives of Sen. Tom Carper.

If the bill is passed by the Senate in a floor vote anticipated to take place in the coming weeks, that funding – and the project itself – will be one step closer to reality.

Following passage by the Senate, the bill would head into a conference committee, where representatives of both houses will resolve the differences between the two versions of the bill — a process that often yields changes both small and large, additive and subtractive.

If the funding for the Bethany-South Bethany project remains in place in the conference bill, that bill could be accepted by both bodies and signed into law as part of the total federal 2006 fiscal year budget, thus cementing the hoped-for September 2006 start for getting new sand on the dwindling shorelines.

Though the target amount for the project’s funding in the 2006 fiscal year has often been quoted at $5 million, any similar amount of federal funding — including at a $4 million level — would likely allow it to move forward from the engineering stage recently completed and possibly move beyond the pre-construction phase for the anticipated start of construction.

If needed, additional funding could be provided in the 2007 fiscal year federal budget, allowing completion of the project with its 65/35 cost-share ratio between the federal government and state government.

The equivalent project for Fenwick Island recently saw its first official pre-construction meeting, anticipating an August 2005 start for dredges that will put sand back on that town’s beach.

The Fenwick Island project received $1.7 million in federal funding in the House version of the appropriations bill that was passed by that body in late May, keeping it on target for its planned start in August.

Proponents of the Bethany-South Bethany project, on the other hand, had to hang their hopes on funding from the Senate side that might make it through the conference version of the appropriations bill.

Both projects will need to have the funding provided in the two bills confirmed in the conference version and passed to guarantee the funding will actually be there come construction time.

The Fenwick Island project, though, has been deemed as “safe,” even if the federal budgeting process is delayed and requires a continuing resolution to keep the government running past Sept. 30.

In that circumstance, its funding level from the 2005 fiscal year would be retained. That wouldn’t provide much help for Bethany-South Bethany, which has been provided much smaller figures for its engineering phase in previous years. Instead, the two towns will have to hope for passage of the $4 million in the 2006 fiscal year budget if they want the project kept on track.

Toward that end, Bethany Beach and South Bethany officials in late 2004 and early 2005, respectively, hired beach replenishment consultants Marlowe & Co. to help make their case with legislators in Washington, D.C.

The question in the two towns for the last several weeks, with no funding in the House version of the appropriations bill, was whether that investment would pay off.

It now appears that it might have, if the funding remains in place and is part of a final federal budget passed this year.