The time left to wait for word on whether the Bethany Beach-South Bethany beach reconstruction project will get funding and a construction go-ahead for 2007 is down to mere hours or days. Word was expected from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers any day now as to whether the project to rebuild the towns’ dwindling shoreline will get moving this year.
But Rep. Mike Castle (R-Del.), visiting Bethany Beach and the historic Addy Sea bed-and-breakfast on Wednesday afternoon, was still preparing to put his legislative muscle behind funding efforts for the project — on into the 2008 fiscal year, if necessary.
“I believe strongly in the federal role for beach replenishment because our beaches are a national treasure,” Castle said Wednesday before a group of local officials and citizens. “Replenishment is vital in reducing storm damage to our coastline and to keeping our coastal residents safe from flooding and storms.
“All of this is critical to ensuring a lasting tourism economy,” he said. “Because the beach is one of our greatest assets here in Delaware — culturally, economically and environmentally — I will continue to take every step necessary to protect it.”
“This dramatic backdrop highlights how we really do need to secure funding of beach replenishment,” Castle said Wednesday, gesturing to the diminished shoreline and the Addy Sea property around him. “This work has to get financed as soon as possible.”
“We need to push as hard as possible to get it done,” Castle added.
Castle highlighted efforts he has been making to try to secure funding for the final two Delaware municipal beaches slated for reconstruction, in the wake of the total lack of federal funding for the project in the 2007 fiscal year.
That funding issue is now in the hands of the Corps, with Congress granting the agency the freedom to determine its own budget priorities within a budget total finalized under the legislators’ continuing resolution passed this month and covering the remainder of the 2007 fiscal year.
Castle has signed a letter with other House members from coastal states to Assistant Secretary of the Army Corps Civil Works Division John Woodley, requesting funding for authorized and continuing beach replenishment projects nationwide. “As far as I’m concerned, the nation means Bethany Beach and South Bethany,” he told those assembled Wednesday.
A letter from Castle has also gone out to Maj. Gen. Don Riley, director of the Civil Works Program, specifically regarding continued funding for the project. Castle said he has also met with Lt. Col. Gwen Baker of the Philadelphia section of the Corps to stress the importance of funding the project.
For the 2008 fiscal year, in which budget legislation is currently being drafted, Castle said he has been working with the rest of the state’s Congressional delegation to ensure the project is “the number one beach replenishment project in their request for funding in the Energy and Water Appropriations Bill.”
“The recent beach replenishment efforts at other beaches along Delaware’s coast have provided adequate protection from erosion, and this is even more reason to quickly complete the Bethany project swiftly,” Castle said.
The delegation has secured $22.7 million in federal funding for beach replenishment in Delaware in the last five years, and DNREC’s Tony Pratt, present for the event on Wednesday, also praised Castle or his continuing work on replenishment, citing also Castle’s work while he was governor of the state. “He is a champion of the coast,” Pratt said.
Castle said he was somewhat hopeful about the project, with funding from the 2007 fiscal year in the hands of the Corps. Pratt told officials and citizens from both towns in recent weeks that the Corps’ Philadelphia division had prioritized the project at the top of its list of civil projects for the coming year.
“We may do better than we would have otherwise,” Castle said Wednesday, while still emphasizing the need for pressure on the Corps to follow through with that prioritization.
Pratt, Bethany Beach Mayor Carol Olmstead, South Bethany Mayor Gary Jayne and lobbyist Paul Ordal of Marlowe & Co. were due later this week to meet with representatives of the Corps in Philadelphia about the project, and perhaps to get the word as to whether funding was coming and when construction might begin.
Castle — and most of those involved — are openly hoping that the Corps will choose to fully fund the estimated $14.5 million in federal funding needed to get the project started and completed in one fell swoop, likely this fall. The project already has some $3.3 million in federal funding banked from the 2006 fiscal year, with a 65-35 state/federal match.
“That’s the most effective and fastest way to restore the shoreline,” Castle said Wednesday of getting the project done all at once, this fall. In the roughly $3 million increments that Congress has funded the project in the last two budget development cycles, things have been “going slower than we would like them to go,” he said, hoping that trend would change in favor of full funding this year.
“I see no reason, frankly, why it can’t be done,” he added.
Castle lauded the support of local officials for the project and the needed funding and noted the potential impact of either a reconstruction project or its lack, on the area’s economy, on the preservation of species and the protection of property and people from coastal storms.
“This is a collaborative effort,” he said, adding praise for state officials who have aided in the project.
“I believe it will, hopefully, happen sooner, rather than latter,” Castle concluded.