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Plan would shift cost of renourishing beach

The proposed federal budget would mean local cities and counties would have to pay a lot more for the work.

By AMY WIMMER

© St. Petersburg Times, published April 11, 2001


The federal budget recommendation released Monday by President George W. Bush contained bad news for beach towns trying to keep sand on their shores.

Bush suggests spending $80-million on renourishment projects nationwide -- a figure that reflects the federal government will pay only 35 percent of project costs, compared to the 65 percent traditionally supplied by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.

Pinellas beaches, from Sand Key to Upham Beach, have been recently renourished in previous funding cycles, making this budget's impact on Pinellas negligible. But the budget does send a clear message from the new President's administration to sand-hungry parts of Florida and the rest of the United States, said Howard Marlowe, a Washington, D.C., lobbyist who represents several Florida communities.

"The thought is, the beach projects are projects that only benefit the local communities, and therefore . . . the counties should be the ones to bear the burden," said Marlowe, who is confident that the final budget approved by Congress will contain more funding for beach renourishment.

In Pinellas County, the Army Corps' contribution is generally closer to 60 percent because of a complex formula the agency uses to calculate how much it will contribute to a project. Pinellas receives the slightly smaller funding level because many of its public beaches are not necessary to protect structures.

Elsewhere in Florida this week, officials are concerned about Bush's new policy of expecting more money from local governments. Dade County was expecting $13-million but found out Monday the Bush administration had recommended $8-million. St. Johns County was anticipating $4-million, but the budget calls for just $300,000.

And Manatee County, Marlowe said, is prepared to pay for a beach renourishment project this summer that the federal government had offered to reimburse them for in 2002. The budget, however, does not mention the project.

U.S. Rep. C.W. Bill Young, chairman of the House Appropriations Committee, has pledged to fight the new cost-sharing scenario, and the House Coastal Caucus has sent a letter to Bush outlining its objections.

On the other side of the issue are organizations such as Taxpayers for Common Sense, which believes renourishment projects mostly benefit wealthy beachfront property owners.

The $80-million in Bush's budget for beach projects is actually a boon compared to the beach funding provided in any of President Clinton's budgets since 1996, when he initiated a policy of not including such projects in his recommendations. But Bush's policy is different because, while it budgets for some projects, it assumes the corps will supply significantly less funding for each.

Counties scheduled to get funding in this year's budget received letters from the corps this week, indicating that if they want their money, they will have to sign new contracts promising to pay for nearly two-thirds of the project, compared to slightly more than one-third in the past.

Marlowe, the lobbyist, suggests those counties should tell the corps: "Thanks, but no thanks -- we'll talk to our congressman."

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