Senator Rallies To Defend Beach Pumping Program

OCEAN CITY — Ocean City’s decades-old beach replenishment program and similar projects like it in coastal communities all over the country survived a late amendment to the federal Water Resources Development Act last week after a fierce defense from Sen. Barbara Mikulski.

Since 1994, a local, state and federal partnership has operated and maintained the Atlantic Coast of Maryland Storm Protection Project, more commonly referred to as beach replenishment. The project includes beach renourishment every four years during which sand is pumped from offshore shoals onto the resorts beaches to maintain their width and fortify the vast dune system that runs from the end of the Boardwalk at 27th Street to the Delaware line.

While beach replenishment is conducted every four years, there are often times when the federal Army Corps of Engineers must do periodic emergency replenishment after significant storms cause erosion. Such is the case after Hurricane Sandy pummeled the Ocean City beaches last fall. The Army Corps of Engineers this fall will likely combine needed emergency repairs with the regularly scheduled four-year replenishment.

The state of Maryland, Worcester County and Ocean City have a long-term 50-year written partnership with the Army Corps of Engineers to perform periodic beach replenishment as needed to maintain adequate storm protection for the billions of dollars in real estate along the beachfront. The Corps pays about 53 percent of the cost of maintaining the program, with Ocean City, Worcester County and the state of Maryland sharing the remaining balance.

With Ocean City nearly 20 years into the 50-year partnership, a line item in the Water Resources Development Act under debate by Congress includes an extension of 15 years for the federal share of beach replenishment in Ocean City and similar coast communities all over the country. However, Senator Tom Colburn (R-OK) last week introduced an amendment to the act that would eliminate the 15-year extension for beach replenishment. Mikulski quickly lashed out at the proposed amendment and rallied the votes needed to defeat it.

“In my state of Maryland, we have a very successful beach renourishment project along the Atlantic Coast in Ocean City,” she said. “Ocean City is the beach destination for many in the mid-Atlantic region.  The purpose of this Army Corps of Engineers project is not to protect a recreational beach, but to provide hurricane protection for citizens and for the billions of dollars in public and private infrastructure.”

Mikulski extolled the vast economic benefits of extending the beach replenishment program in Ocean City and in other communities around the nation.

“Since its completion, the project has repeatedly demonstrated its value by preventing more than $240 million in damages,” she said. “Most recently, this project successfully protected the residents of Ocean City and Worcester County from Super Storm Sandy.” 

Colburn’s amendment would have blocked an additional 15-year extension of federal support for beach replenishment programs, including the Atlantic Coast of Maryland Storm Protection Project. However, Mikulski was able to rally her colleagues to get the majority vote she needed to defeat it.