The 'new normal' for beaches in Washington
March 31, 2011
Some recent items out of Washington bring news of how the "new normal" in DC might affect federal support for coastal management.
First, as part of more than 100 amendments debated in the House of Representatives in the wake of the ascension of Republicans to power in that chamber, Rep. Paul Broun (R-Ga., 10th District) offered language that would have barred any federal funding provided to the Corps of Engineers to be used for "beach replenishment projects."
In a Feb. 18 vote, the amendment was overwhelmingly defeated in a 348-74 vote, a strong show of bipartisan support for federal involvement in coastal management.
How this support plays out as Congress continues to navigate the brave new world of Washington is unclear, but such a positive vote is welcome news under any circumstances.
One aspect of this brave new DC world that has been most unsettling to all parties is the changing faces of funding for federally authorized beach projects. In past years, once a project navigated the rigorous process of winning federal authorization from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers — a multi-year effort encompassing numerous reviews and report — an individual project then relied on support from a Member (or Members) of Congress to get funding appropriated in the annual federal spending bill. This, too, was a multi-year project, as limited budgets meant funds dribbled out of Washington, either to accumulate until there was sufficient funds to undertake a project or to reimburse the local government for money it already spend against the federal share of the project.
The sweeping rejection of "earmarks" embraced by this Congress also took away funding prospects for already authorized projects that needed a Member's support to make it in the bill — such as beach projects, among others. Instead, funding was allocated in a lump sum to the Corps with very little direction as to how it should be spent — which has left the Corps scrambling to develop a funding process of its own to replace the Member-directed process that had been in place for so long.
Local government officials and beach managers got to hear from top Corps officials in person about the agency's plans as it moves forward during the recent 2011 Coastal Summit in Washington, an annual event presented by the American Shore & Beach Preservation Association (ASBPA) to bring beach advocates to Washington to hear from federal officials, Members of Congress and key staffers on the federal view of the coast.
This year, Washington listened as much as it talked during the Coastal Summit, as visits to Capitol Hill interlaced with presentations from key federal agency staff allowed attendees to act as conduits of information between Congress and the agencies, as well as to bring the beach message from back home to the Capitol.
"By being in Washington at such a crucial time, beach advocates were able to keep the issue of coastal management in front of Congress," said Mayor Harry Simmons, ASBPA president. "Particularly valuable was our interaction with top officials at the Corps of Engineers, at a time when the Corps is working out how to move forward in this changing Washington world. Summit attendees were able to bring their insights from Corps briefings to Members of Congress even before Corps officials themselves had been able to let Congress on the agency's next step in coastal funding.
"In all, this was a golden example of how 'being here means being heard' in Washington," said Simmons.
The bottom line: The face of federal involvement in coastal management is changing, driven by shrinking budgets and increasing needs for flexibility and cooperation. The message Summit attendees heard was the federal role in America's coast will remain strong (since support for beaches is clear), but it will take a few years to see how this support will evolve. It remains important that beach advocates stay involved in the federal process, and work hard to keep their members of Congress engaged in local coastal needs whether in the district or on the Hill.
For more information about America's beaches, visit the ABPA online at www.asbpa.org.