After reconstuction, beach funding unclear

South Bethany Mayor Gary Jayne called March 19 the town’s “red letter day,” as word came in of full funding of the anticipated beach reconstruction project there and in neighboring Bethany Beach. But with the long-awaited construction now set to begin this fall, the issue of replenishment funding still remains a potential concern for the two towns in the future.
‘Local’ share varies by state

For now, the 65/35 federal/state share is the rule. But how the state acquires that 35 percent share is determined by state policy. The Delaware accommodations tax brings in a significant amount of funding ($9.9 million in 2005 alone), but neither county nor municipal governments contribute directly to replenishment costs. Other states handle the funding issue differently.

Hurricane-prone Florida, for instance, has legislated that each of its counties can be organized as a “beach and shore preservation district,” with the right to collect a tax specific to funding shoreline protection and erosion control. That allows for the establishment of municipal taxing districts for the purpose of implementing beach construction projects within unincorporated areas of the county, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA).

“These statutes authorize the county to assess property for the beach nourishment project in accordance with an economic analysis of special benefits accruing to individual properties or within specific benefit zones,” the NOAA document states.

NOAA officials said local city charters should be researched to determine each city’s authority to undertake funding a beach construction project, where needed.

Further, NOAA suggested, “When formulating and structuring a local financing plan, project beneficiary groups are identified and benefits allocated to those individuals and properties that primarily gain the benefit. Assignment of benefit to beneficiary groups provides a basis to formulate a project’s cost-share allocation plan to businesses, individuals and property owners based on the benefits derived.

“This is important when the local cost share is substantial and no federal cost participation is expected, or when the project is to be funded 100 percent by the local sponsors,” they emphasized – a case that has not yet arisen for local municipal beaches, which are considered to have public access, though that is limited by parking constraints.

Call for more local funding as public demands more access

A lack of federal and state funding has, however, been the case in local private beach communities, where public access from the roadway is not available and where the public access to the beach is only below the low tide line, according to the state’s existing — and controversial — version of the ancient Public Trust Doctrine. Most other states use the high tide line for such demarcation.

In these private communities, the standard policy for beach replenishment has been to “piggyback” on nearby municipal projects, thereby saving property owners the cost of initially bringing in dredges but having them pay for all other costs except for the traditional “taper” at the overlapping edge of the adjacent municipal projects.
Even this has been controversial, as some in the public argue that northward drift of replenished sands benefits

the private beaches adjacent to replenished public shores and that the benefits of piggybacking and free access to state-controlled sands for replenishment are a use of public resources for private benefit.

The debate over private beaches has grown over the decades and now appears to be boiling over into discussion of the need for private property owners who reside near public beaches to directly pay for some portion of the protection their properties enjoy with replenished beaches, particularly as the demand by the public for access to these municipal beaches has begun to exceed reasonable capacity and capacity is also reached at state-run public beaches.

As the Office of Management and Budget (OMB)’s push against federal funding has been heightened and federal dollars have grown scarcer for such projects, the focus has also increasingly been on whether the state, counties or municipalities will be the ones to take up any slack.

The focus has doubled on the subject of periodic replenishment, which the OMB forcibly opposed in late consideration of the 2007-fiscal-year continuing resolution for U.S. Army Corps of Engineers funding.

Funding ratios discussed but not yet changed

The need to fund beach replenishment more on a local level was a possibility that Bunting alluded to in recent weeks, but Pratt told the Coastal Point this week that no move has yet been made at the state level to change the funding policy or in any way require municipal governments or individual property owners in beach towns to pony up more of their own funds.

Sen. Tom Carper (D-Del.), former Delaware governor, told the Coastal Point in the wake of last week’s federal funding announcement that he believed the existing cost-share plan was a good solution.

“There was a time when the federal contribution was greater than 65 percent and the state lower than 35 percent. That was a compromise reached under the Clinton presidency,” Carper noted of the existing ratio. “In my view, it’s a fair and balanced compromise. State and local government should have some skin in this game, should bear part of the cost. The current funding formula ensures there is a significant local commitment,” he emphasized.

Rep. Mike Castle (R-Del.), also previously the state’s governor, told the Coastal Point that the issue of increased local contribution to beach replenishment was something that was increasingly being raised. But, he said, “It’s not an immediate issue. The share now is 65/35.”

Castle acknowledged, “Historically, the local communities — and that could be counties as well — have not had to make a significant contribution. That could change. It’s not something I support or condone, but as matter of funding and local participation, that could happen. And we have to be ready for it if it happens,” he warned, echoing Bunting’s admonition to local officials.

“That’s more discussion than a movement in that direction,” Castle noted, focused for the moment on the happier news that the two Delaware beach towns were the only replenishment project nationwide to be funded under the 2007 continuing resolution. “Right now, we have immediate needs that have to be accommodated, and if they want to have that discussion later, that’s all well and good,” he concluded.

Periodic renourishments already in jeopardy

Particularly vulnerable under the most recent OMB funding mandates has been periodic renourishment — the smaller projects conducted every three to five years that replace sand that has washed offshore in those years and, ideally, take the beaches back up to their “reconstructed” state.

Rehoboth Beach, where a major reconstruction of the beach was completed in 2005, is nearly due for its periodic renourishment, Pratt told the Coastal Point recently, and he said efforts were being made to begin efforts for federal funding for that project under the coming 2008 fiscal year. He further said the OMB had eliminated the possibility of periodic renourishment or renourishment planning being funded under the 2007 budget.

The periodic renourishments are considered an integral part of the so-called “50-year reconstruction” projects, with a 50-year commitment on paper from the Corps to maintain the reconstructed beaches. Those renourishment projects still have to be funded, however, under annual budget appropriations.

Castle acknowledged the issue last week. “The other concern is that from time to time the beaches are going to need renourishment,” he said. “By taking money from the pool to do these major beaches all at once, renourishment in various other places in the state may not be fully funded. We’ll have to pay attention to that."

Would a coastal president change federal policy?

Carper, asked about the OMB’s ongoing opposition to federal funding of beach renourishment at any level, said changes to federal policy and renourishment philosophy would have to originate at the White House.

The OMB is traditionally in opposition,” Carper said. “The OMB works for the president, and the president sets the tone for the budget. If you have a president or OMB director who, frankly, never lived in a place where this was a concern, it shouldn’t be a surprise when their budget not sensitive to projects like this.

“We haven’t had a president from a coastal area where beach erosion is a problem for quite some time,” Carper noted. “For them, coastal replenishment is just not on their radar screen. Historically, presidents have proposed budgets that have zeroed out replenishment funds.

“However,” he added, “those of us who live or recreate along the coast, who have homes and businesses that depend in no small part on having ample beaches and the strong protection of well-built and maintained sand dunes, know that these projects are vitally important — and so does the state. That’s why the state ponies up 35 percent of the cost.”

On the subject of Pratt’s statement that $117 million in annual funding could keep beaches nationwide in good shape for both shoreline protection and economic reasons, Carper said he felt that kind of philosophy was sensible, particularly in the wake of the devastation of the 2005 hurricane season and the devastation wreaked on the Gulf Coast.

“A comprehensive approach, looking down from 30,000 feet, makes more sense than a piecemeal approach, which is what we pursue each and every year,” the senator said.

“Having said that, until we have a president whose DNA tells him or her that maintaining beaches and sand dune protection systems is vital, we’re not likely to see adoption of a more comprehensive approach. We’ll go from year to year, as we have again this time, and cobble together as much funds from federal and state sources to provide the protection that’s needed on a case-by-case basis.”

Carper said the 2008 presidential race could provide a quick solution to that problem, for Delaware residents and those from other states where replenishment has been a priority.

“If we elected someone from a coastal state — my guess is a President Joe Biden and his OMB director would saythis is a greater priority,” Carper noted. “If you happen to be from Texas, this is just not what you get up and worry about every day.”

Barring the election of a coastal-state president, local officials have now been warned that future replenishment funding might be increasingly on their shoulders, and those of their constituents.

As Bethany Beach and South Bethany look forward to their final stretch of Delaware municipal beach being reconstructed this fall and winter, the future health of that beach could rely on the discussion on the national, state and local levels as to who should foot the bill for keeping the nation’s beaches in solid shape.