Beach project fully funded

The Delaware Congressional delegation and local officials announced late Monday night that some $14.4 million in federal funding through the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers has been allocated for the anticipated Bethany Beach-South Bethany beach reconstruction project.

That amount fully funds the project, in combination with state and local matching funds that have already been allocated, plus the $3.3 million in federal funds banked for the project in the 2006 fiscal year.

The project will be the final stretch of public beach to be reconstructed in the state. Construction on the project is slated to begin after Labor Day and will continue throughout the winter of 2007-2008. The project will pump 4 million yards of sands onto the coastline, providing for the construction of a 100-foot dune and the creation of a 200-foot beach in front of it.

The much-anticipated project is expected to help protect homes and businesses along the shore, and to provide a more roomy beach, after a period of severe erosion.

“It’s amazing!” a beaming Bethany Beach Mayor Carol Olmstead said of the news of the funding on Tuesday. “This is the replenishment scenario that will give our town the maximum beach and storm protection, and best possible outcome for our community.”

Teamwork praised by all involved

Olmstead thanked the state’s Congressional delegation, as well as DNREC Secretary John Hughes and DNREC Shoreline and Waterway Management Section Director Tony Pratt for their work on the project’s behalf. “Last but not least, our supporters in Bethany Beach, who allowed us to stay the course and believed in our efforts,” she noted.

“It just goes to show that when you work long and hard as a team and don’t lose hope, things can happen,” Sen. Tom Carper (D-Del.) told the Coastal Point on Tuesday. “There was just one beach replenishment project in the country that has been approved, and this is it,” he emphasized.

Getting the needed federal funding was the focus of lobbying efforts by the two towns, state officials, and local residents and property owners. The towns hired lobbying firm Marlowe & Co., visited regularly with the Congressional delegation, and asked citizens and visitors alike to support the project through e-mails to the delegation.

Carper said the work on all fronts of the fight for federal funding had really paid off for the project’s supporters.

“This has been a team effort from the start. The state and local officials could not have been more supportive,” he said. “And the citizens were also very supportive. In fact, there were many e-mails sent to Congressional delegations outside our state voicing their support.”

Rep. Mike Castle (D-Del.) was likewise full of praise for the work that had gone in at all levels.

“I can’t say enough about the state’s work on this. Secretary Hughes and Tony Pratt have been right on top of it,” Castle told the Coastal Point. “And the work of the mayors, town councils and citizens — this was an issue that did not have detractors, in terms of it not being beneficial to Bethany Beach and South Bethany, and that’s always very helpful.”

Castle said the two towns’ mayors and council members had also helped bring the project to full funding. “Their constant concern had a great deal of impact. Every time we had a press conference, they’ve always been there, and they’ve contacted me personally,” he said.

South Bethany Mayor Gary Jayne also noted the team effort involved in finally obtaining full funding for the project. “On behalf of the people of South Bethany, Mayor Jayne expresses the Town’s gratitude to the Delaware Congressional Delegation: Sens. Joe Biden and Tom Carper and Rep. Mike Castle, who were instrumental in obtaining the crucial federal funds,” read a release from the town on Monday.

Jayne also issued thanks to state Sen. George Bunting and state Rep. Gerald Hocker, who were long-time strong proponents of the project, as well as to Delaware Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Control Secretary John Hughes and Director of Shoreline and Waterway Management Tony Pratt, “who have supported and worked hard for this project for many years,” Jayne said.

South Bethany’s mayor thanked the South Bethany Town Council, the South Bethany Property Owners’ Association, “and all the South Bethany property owners who rallied forth and contacted their respective members of Congress. Achieving this milestone, a red-letter day in the history of South Bethany, was most importantly — a community effort.”

Long haul meets with success

Monday and Tuesday were days of jubilation as those involved in getting the project funded shared news of their success.

“Fifteen years of work, give or take — we are so lucky to have the Congressional delegation we have,” said Bethany Beach resident Bob Parsons, a former town council member and current member of the town’s Intergovernmental Relations Committee.

“Congressman Castle was governor when we started with a simple replacement in 1988, so he has understood what we needed — and why — all along,” said Parsons. “I have to think that Sen. Carper did lots of studying when he was governor and took that knowledge to Washington with him. The one crucial talent that our whole Congressional delegation shares is their ability to communicate with the other members of their respective legislative bodies,” Parsons noted. “Clearly, using that talent made it happen.”

“For the state funding side, John Hughes and Tony Pratt have been budget bulldogs in keeping beach dollars in the beach account. And our local legislators over the years — especially Sen. Bunting, who has been in Dover from the first day — have been very effective,” Parsons praised.

“And there is one large group who should get a standing ovation,” he emphasized. “That is the group of over 3,000 Bethany and South Bethany property owners and beach lovers who took the time to e-mail or call their hometown Congressional representatives, asking for their vote and support of the project. This is just another small demonstration of what can be accomplished when folks work together.”

Parsons also noted that Intergovernmental Relations Committee Chairwoman Julia Jacobsen had been highly involved over the last decade and a half in the town’s efforts to get the project funded. “I got a lot of free mentoring along the way,” he said of their work.

Bethany Beach Planning Commission Chairwoman Kathleen Mink was also full of praise for all those who were involved in the effort. “This has been a twisting road with many unmarked entrances and exits. Bethany Beach residents, businesses, property owners and visitors owe a debt of deep gratitude to those who worked so hard to successfully reach this goal,” she said.

was a long-shot

The success came none too soon for most in the towns and others pulling for the project.

“With the beach conditions as they are, I felt very strongly that we needed to do something sooner rather than later,” said Castle. “I had even talked to the state about doing something on an emergency basis.”

The Congressman noted that the project had been funded on the federal level in drips and drabs, providing only $3.3 million in the 2006 fiscal year and perhaps less than that for the 2007 fiscal year, as had been proposed in budget bills that were never passed. At that rate, several more years might have passed before the reconstruction project actually got under way.

“I’m extremely pleased that, instead of having to wait for period of three or four years, we got the full funding all at once,” Castle said. “This will happen this fall, and that’s extremely good. I’m not sure could withstand another major storm. It certainly has been affecting tourism and the beaches.”

Castle said he wasn’t sure the remaining funding would even have been obtained in the coming 2008 fiscal year. “We were trying to get $3, $3 and $3 (million), and I’m not sure it wouldn’t have been 2009 or 2010 before (construction) would have started,” he said. “It does move up the timetable a great deal, which is vitally important.”

With the project on the calendar for the start of construction, Castle said he hoped the announcement would help iron out the last few roadblocks in the process, specifically getting necessary construction easements from property owners who have been holding out.

“We also have some private ownership agreements with the state that we have to deal with,” Castle said. “I hope, with funding at hand, that the private owners would understand that and make their agreements with the state.”

At least a handful of property owners in Bethany and South Bethany have yet to give their easements, as was the case in Rehoboth Beach until the eve of construction. Pratt said that issue was resolved the very morning the state went into court to obtain the easements through condemnation. That could be the case this time, but Castle is hoping the funding announcement will signal a time of more cooperation as the project finally moves forward.

Olmstead also noted on March 16 that Pratt, Bunting and town officials had met with representatives of neighboring Sea Colony about the proposed “piggybacking” of the private community’s own beach reconstruction with the reconstruction of the two towns’ public beaches. That project, as well as one in neighboring Middlesex Beach, is likely to begin shortly after the public beach project and benefit from the dredges having been brought into the area.

Project was a minority of one for Army Corps

Carper likewise thought the chance of getting full funding in the 2007 fiscal-year budget was slim. He said the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, which is in charge of the project and its federal funding, was chiefly responsible for the project’s good fortune this year.

“It was a long shot for even the most optimistic among us,” the senator told the Coastal Point. “But the Army Corps believes in this project. They believe it’s a meritorious project, and it was their top project for Delaware. And the delegation worked very hard to convince them that it should be the top project for Delaware.”

Carper said he particularly was thankful for the work of the Corps’ Philadelphia office and Maj. Gen. Don T. Riley, head of the Corps’ Civil Works division. “We really appreciate their strong support,” Carper noted.

Pratt had emphasized in recent weeks that the Bethany Beach-South Bethany project was known to be at the top of the list of civil projects for the Philadelphia Corps office. He said he was confident that they would press for the project to be fully funded if they were permitted to make their own budget priorities.

Federal agencies were granted a lump-sum budget similar to their 2006 amounts, under a continuing resolution passed by Congress last month that also eliminated so-called “earmarks” for specific projects. But it was initially unclear what impact that would have specifically on replenishment projects or the Corps’ ability to budget for them.

Word on that decision was expected late last week, after several additional weeks of waiting due to conflicts between the Corps and the White House’s Office of Management and Budget, which has opposed federal funding for beach replenishment and sought to block any of the 2007 fiscal-year funding from going toward periodic renourishment or planning for replenishment projects.

Pratt said that discussion was unlikely to affect funding for the Bethany-South Bethany project, though it did end up delaying the announcement that full funding was going to be given. The Bethany-South Bethany project had previously been approved for funding and was in the no-going-back construction stage when major revisions to Corps funding provisions were made for the 2006 fiscal year.

The major question was whether the project would receive a lesser allocation in line with the previous $3 million allocation or whether the Corps would successfully bring in full funding for the beach reconstruction. Officials had their fingers crossed and were pleasantly surprised when the announcement came Monday.

“It’s really rather remarkable: there was one beach replenishment project in the whole country that made it through and got approved. It says as lot about the merit of the project and about how hard our team has worked to get us to this finish line,” Carper said.