Replenishment effort heads to the beach and boardwalk

Federal officials seem on the slow track to funding beach reconstruction in the one remaining unreplenished project area in Delaware, with just $3.3 million in federal funding appropriated for the Bethany Beach/South Bethany project in the 2006 fiscal-year budget and a similar amount initially included in the Senate version of appropriations bills for 2007.

If that $3 million and change survives the conference period between the U.S. House of Representatives (which again provided no funding for the project for 2007) to become reality later this summer or fall, local officials are looking at just over $6.5 million as a possible starting point for a project estimated to require some $14.5 million in federal funding.

Thus, crunch time has come for the two towns, as they gear up for a major campaign to bombard U.S. senators and congressmen with requests for funding for the project. Without full funding accumulated, the project will likely continue to languish as beaches further dwindle. Local officials are alarmed at the prospect.

In Bethany Beach, town councilmen are spending nearly as much time these days handing out to concert-goers and boardwalk denizens the new promotional postcards touting the project as they are going door-to-door, campaigning for re-election.

With an attractive watercolor scene depicting life in the beach town on the front of the card, the reverse discusses the need for federal funding for beach reconstruction and the need for action on the part of property owners, residents and visitors alike, to lobby the U.S. Congress to provide that funding.

The idea was the brainchild of resident Mary Ann Smith, who received council members’ thanks at their Aug. 18 meeting. South Bethany officials liked the idea so well that they’re considering a similar effort to garner support directly on that town’s beaches.

Recent efforts from both towns have focused on visitors and property owners living outside of Delaware, with the Delaware’s congressional delegation already firmly on board for funding.

In addition to providing more votes and clout to support federal funding for the project, town officials are hoping that the outreach to non-residents will help bring on board powerful committee members, such as Ohio’s Sen. Mike Dewine, who serves on that body’s Appropriations Committee.

So they are taking advantage of the opportunity provided by a wealthy of out-of-state residents populating the boardwalk and beach on a given evening, and handing out the informational cards.

On those cards: information on how to use the town’s Web site and links to directly communicate with legislators from each person’s home district.

“Help save our beach! - Bethany Beach and South Bethany Beach have been working with state and federal officials to restore our eroding shoreline. You can help - click here to make a difference,” one of the uppermost portion of the main page of the town Web site at touts as part of the effort.

Once there, those seeking to help are directed to “Send an electronic message to your Member of Congress by visiting”

That link goes directly to the Web site of Marlowe & Company, the replenishment consultants and lobbyists hired by Bethany Beach and South Bethany to promote their cause with federal legislators. There, visitors enter their ZIP code to indicate which senators and congressmen represent them and can add to a stock message supporting the reconstruction project:

“I am contacting you to request your support for the shoreline protection project in Bethany Beach and South Bethany, Delaware. The beaches in these communities are important natural resources that are treasured by thousands of annual visitors, as well as the permanent and seasonal residents in the area.

“Thankfully, the federal government has supported shoreline restoration projects because they protect our communities and actually decrease the costs of recovery after severe storms,” the letter begins, then allowing additional input from the writer, if so desired.

“Please urge the members of the House and Senate Appropriations Committees to fund the important beach restoration project in Bethany Beach and South Bethany in the Fiscal Year 2007 budget. Healthy beaches provide protection against storms, enhance the environment, and generate substantial economic benefits to the regional and national economies,” the letter concludes.

Thus, with a few clicks, those supporting the Beach Beach/South Bethany beach reconstruction project can provide input immediately to their legislators in Washington, D.C.

The heavy focus on the Internet may seem a bit overly tech-savvy in an area full of retirees, but officials in both South Bethany and Bethany Beach have emphasized that the need for support to be voiced via e-mail is a necessary evil in the days of anthrax scans on Congressional postal mail. They said sometime it takes weeks or longer for constituents’ physical letters to reach Congressional staffers.

So, instead, they’re asking residents, property owners and visitors to take to the World Wide Web and communicate digitally.

And they’re also asking them to use the power of the Internet to spread the word, letting friends and relatives far and wide know about the need to support federal funding for the project so that even more grassroots support is apparent in Washington.

Further, recognizing that the area’s residents are increasingly computer-savvy, they hope that they will take an easier route to spread word of their support for beach reconstruction, as well as passing along the notion of their need to children, grandchildren and friends around the country.