State of the beaches

With roughly $14 million still needed from the federal government to cement planned beach reconstruction efforts in Bethany Beach and South Bethany, officials in the two towns are focusing their efforts on persuading the two houses of the U.S. Congress to include those funds in the budget for the 2007 fiscal year.
Coastal Point • M. PATRICIA TITUS: Bethany and South Bethany residents are hoping there is more to their beaches soon.Coastal Point • M. PATRICIA TITUS:
Bethany and South Bethany residents are hoping there is more to their beaches soon.

Representatives from both towns recently attended the American Shore and Beach Preservation Association (ASBPA) 2006 Coastal Summit in Washington, D.C., during which they took advantage of the opportunity to meet with Rep. Mike Castle, Sen. Tom Carper and the staff of Sen. Joe Biden on the topic of beach preservation.

Some of those officials returned to the nation’s capital again March 15, for further lobbying efforts aimed toward bringing the Bethany Beach-South Bethany project, and other efforts, to fruition.

Bethany Beach Mayor Jack Walsh, Town Council Members Tony McClenny and Jerry Dorfman, Public Safety Director Ralph Mitchell and replenishment point-man John Himmelberg joined South Bethany Mayor Gary Jayne and Town Manager Melvin Cusick for the Delaware League of Local Governments trip. Also making the journey were Mayor Gary Meredith and Town Council Member Bill Wichmann of Ocean View and Dewey Beach Commissioners Dell Tush and Dale Cook.

During the ASBPA conference earlier this month, the local officials presented their elected federal representatives with a graphics-laden report depicting the before and after of the state’s beaches with reconstruction. Dramatic photos show Lewes, Rehoboth Beach, Dewey Beach and Fenwick Island shorelines as they transformed from eroded to expansive.

Similarly, Bethany Beach and South Bethany beaches are pictured in the booklet in their current eroded state, but in the place of the replenished “after” photos are the hopes of the towns that their beaches will be next and the concerns of what might be the result if they are not.

Jayne told council members at South Bethany’s March 10 council meeting that the officials at the ASBPA summit received strong indications of continued support for beach reconstruction from the legislators and their staffs, and that they considered the visit worthwhile.

Similarly, Walsh reported a positive visit at his town’s March 17 council session, saying the DLLG delegation had met with Biden, Carper and Castle’s staff two days prior to thank them for their support and ask for it to continue. Biden, he said, had expressed “cautious optimism” regarding the likelihood of federal funding for the project in the coming fiscal year.

It was good news for the two towns. But they’re not stopping there.

The Save Our Beaches campaign is geared to expand beyond the efforts of town officials and to their citizens, with official pleas from both towns’ governments for the citizens to contact legislators directly and encourage them to get the needed funding into the federal budget this year.

The joint appeal reads:

“Please help keep the “Beach” in Bethany Beach and South Bethany Beach! Bethany Beach and South Bethany Beach have been working with state and federal officials to restore our eroding shoreline. Over the next few months, Congress will be making decisions on how much to fund the project next year. Beach restoration is a sound, cost-efficient investment in the towns and surrounding areas of Bethany Beach and South Bethany. Given the depleted and fragile state of the shoreline, an investment in this project will forestall much more costly disaster payments due to erosion or a major storm hitting the area.

“Congress provided initial funding for the project last year. In order to proceed with the project, additional funds are needed in next year’s federal budget. These funds will be matched with state dollars set aside for beach restoration. Please contact your Member of Congress to tell them how important it is to support the Bethany Beach-South Bethany Beach shoreline protection project.

“Send an electronic message to your Member of Congress by visiting Thank you.”

Jayne said the emphasis put last year on non-resident property owners and visitors contacting their legislators as part of the lobbying effort had been a particular success.

It was noted then that Delaware residents do only have three representatives in Congress, and with only Castle representing the state in the House of Representatives, it is often difficult for state projects to get as much financial emphasis as projects in, say, neighboring Maryland, which has eight congressmen in addition to its two senators. Though Maryland’s Atlantic shoreline is smaller, Delaware historically has more difficulty getting federal funding for beach replenishment.

Thus, the focus on non-resident property owners and visitors is aimed at enlisting the help of the many legislators from other states who could add to the weight Castle, and Biden and Carper, could put behind efforts to obtain funding for the one remaining beach reconstruction project in Delaware.

Resident Julia Jacobsen and former Mayor Bob Parsons, who has remained one of the town’s point-persons on the replenishment issue, provided further details of the ASBPA trip at the March 17 Bethany council meeting. Jacobsen said they had been told the project stood a better chance of getting funding now than it had two weeks prior, though the long-term prospects were still not great.

Jacobsen also noted that the Bethany Beach-South Bethany project had been deemed to come in under the wire – just beating a prohibition against any “new” projects for any amount of future federal funding.

Parsons explained that, while the Army Corps of Engineers previous practice of “continuing contracts” (multi-year contracts established with only a single year of funding assured) had been eliminated last year, the go-ahead had apparently been given for projects to “bankroll” what funding they do get. Unlike in past years, the funds do not expire on Sept. 30 if they are not used.

That would mean the two-town project could hold onto its roughly $3 federal million in funding from the 2006 fiscal year and add it to whatever amount it gets in this year’s budget process. If that’s not enough, the sum of the two years could be carried over again, until a sufficient amount is in the bank for completion of the project, he said. (There is a 65-35 federal-state match on such funding.)

Jacobsen encouraged local businesses, the area’s Chamber of Commerce and individuals to join the ASPBA as individual members and thus make their voice heard on the issue.

Between the in-person appeals the local officials make this month and throughout the summer, and the letters, e-mails and telephone calls they hope will pour into legislators’ offices as the 2007 fiscal year federal budget is determined, Bethany Beach and South Bethany beachgoers are hoping the towns will be able to enjoy the same added level of protection and expanded beaches that have already been realized in neighboring towns.