Shifting Sands Thwart Beach Restoration

May 22, 1998

For decades, the federal government has picked up about two-thirds of the cost of beach restoration projects. But sentiment is growing -- both among federal officials and some leaders in coastal communities and states -- to cut down on such projects and let the oceans have their way.

  • Since 1965, an estimated $3.5 billion in public money has been spent on 1,305 beach replenishment projects, according to a Duke University study.
  • While the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers disputes that figure, it is currently spending $150 million a year in an often futile effort to keep beaches from washing away.
  • Critics question the fairness of taxing residents of landlocked states so the Corps can pay 65 percent of the cost of projects to protect the owners of beach-front homes.
  • The Clinton administration would continue the 65 percent funding of the cost of new beach replenishment projects -- but would cut to 35 percent the federal share for the following 50 years of maintenance.

Experts say there are three ways to try to preserve beaches -- through sand dredging, construction of seawalls or the installation of wood or stone jetties. But each method has its drawbacks. Dredging has to be constantly repeated over the years. Seawalls have to be built higher after three to 10 years, hastening further erosion. And jetties impede the natural movement of sand along the coastline -- thereby depriving beaches of sand farther down the coast.

North Carolina, South Carolina, Maine, Rhode Island, Texas and Oregon ban seawalls and other hard structures on beaches.

If the federal cuts go through, shore communities and coastal states will have to decide whether they can or want to pay a greater share of the bill for beach restoration.

Source: Martha T. Moore, "Line in the Sand over Beach Rebuilding," USA Today, May 22, 1998

 

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