NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

Beach Replenishment: Subsidies for the Wealthy

November 10, 2003

When Hurricane Isabel hit, replenishment of beach sand shielded Virginia Beach while Buckroe Beach washed away. Critics say the federal programs that protect beaches against storms and normal erosion damage the environment and subsidize wealthy oceanfront property owners.

Beaches on the Atlantic Ocean and Gulf of Mexico constantly shift with tides and currents. They can be stabilized only by constant investment, critics say, and, even with that, a storm eventually will reshape the seashore. Storms and waves form barrier islands by pushing sand to elevations above the water.

Environmentalists say the government shouldn't subsidize people who choose to live on ever-shifting shores and islands. By trying to anchor these barrier islands, such as North Carolina's Outer Banks, the government changes the water depth near shore and damages wetlands on the mainland.

  • The federal government has spent $3.7 billion protecting beaches over the last 75 years; in recent years, local governments have put in an additional 35 percent of the cost of such projects.
  • Congress appropriated a record $135 million for beach restoration in 2002 and $109 million in 2003, according to Marlowe & Co., a lobbying firm that represents communities seeking money for such projects.
  • The Senate and the House of Representatives have approved about $110 million in 2004, but legislators disagree about which projects will be funded.

Spending to stabilize beaches is a small part of the federal government's $2.1 trillion annual budget, but it has had far-reaching effects.

"It stimulates more real estate development, so you can't find a place to park,'' says Dave Grant, director of the Ocean Institute at Sandy Hook, an education center at New Jersey's Sandy Hook Beach. ''It's a vicious cycle. Sooner or later, a big storm is going to come along and level everything anyway."

Source: Dennis Cauchon, "Beach protection: A tale of two cities in Va." USA Today, November 10, 2003.


Browse more articles on Tax and Spending Issues