Mixed News On Fed Beach Replenishment Funding

OCEAN CITY — It was good news and bad news last week for Ocean City’s beach replenishment program after the Army Corps of Engineers (ACE) approved the funding for the next phase slated for this fall, but left uncertain federal funding for subsequent phases in the future.

The Ocean City beaches are routinely replenished every four years with periodic emergency projects as needed following storms and other natural events. Beach replenishment began in Ocean City in 1994 through a 50-year agreement with the town, Worcester County and the state of Maryland partnering with the federal ACE, which provides over 50 percent of the funding for the massive undertaking.

The beach replenishment program is critical to the protection of Ocean City and its valuable resources from flooding from tropical storms, hurricanes and Nor’easters. To date, the project is credited for preventing an estimated $600 million in storm-related damages.

Following a significant winter storm last January and subsequent storms and weather events, an emergency phase has been planned to begin this fall, but the federal funding for the next phase had been in question. Last month, Congressman Andy Harris said the recent cost estimates for the next phase came in considerably lower than expected and urged the ACE to approve the funding in a letter sent to corps officials in February.

“I believe this is significantly below the amounts included in the supplemental appropriations bill for the project,” Harris said in the letter. “However, I have been informed that headquarters has not released any of these funds to the Baltimore District, leaving the district unable to move forward with the project. The corps’ procurement process can be lengthy and, therefore, it is important that the district begin that effort as soon as possible with the anticipated start beginning immediately after Labor Day. I would urge corps headquarters to release these funds without further delay and would appreciate your full consideration, consistent with existing guidelines and policies to this request.”

Last week, ACE responded to Harris’ letter with a letter from Director of Civil Works James Dalton explaining the funding for the fall work had been approved.

“I understand the importance of this project and its significance to the region,” the letter reads. “I am pleased to inform you the project will receive sufficient Flood Control and Coastal Emergency (FCCE) supplemental funding to award a contract this fiscal year. The FCCE funds will be utilized for beach renourishment to at least the minimum design template for providing storm protection.”

However, the Army Corps of Engineers’ letter made no promises for future federal funding for Ocean City’s beach replenishment project.

“This project will be given every consideration for funding along with many other worthwhile programs, projects and activities across the nation in competition for limited federal resources,” the ACE letter reads. “However, no commitment can be made at this time concerning any future funding.”

City Engineer Terry McGean said this week the funding approval is good news in that the next phase of beach replenishment will go on as planned next fall. However, the bad news is the uncertainty of federal funding in the future could force the town and its county, state and federal partners to alter the regular beach replenishment cycle schedule.

“The letter is primarily good news, but we still have a little work to do,” he said. “The good news is, thanks to Senators Ben Cardin and Chris Van Hollen and Congressman Harris, we will be doing a beach replenishment project this offseason. The issue is how much sand we will be placing as part of that project.”

McGean said the project will go on as planned this fall, but the cycle could be changed because of the uncertainty for future funding.

“Essentially, the corps has gotten funding to bring the beach back to the condition it was in before Winter Storm Jonas and other events last year,” he said. “However, funding for what we call advance replenishment is still uncertain.”

McGean explained the four-year cycle for beach replenishment is preferable. However, with federal funding not secured in out years, the schedule might have to be altered at greater expense for the resort and its other partners.

“The reason for this is that the cost to mobilize the dredge and deliver and set up all the pipe and related construction equipment necessary for a beach replenishment effort is extremely high, typically over a million dollars,” he said. “Therefore, by replenishing the beach every four years and pumping the necessary sand in advance to account for four years of normal beach erosion, we only pay the mobilization costs once every four years instead of every year. If the corps does not receive this final piece of funding, we will likely need to replenish the beach again in two years or less instead of the normal four-year cycle and have to pay the extra cost for another mobilization.”

About The Author: Shawn Soper

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Shawn Soper has been with The Dispatch since 2000. He began as a staff writer covering various local government beats and general stories. His current positions include managing editor and sports editor. Growing up in Baltimore before moving to Ocean City full time three decades ago, Soper graduated from Loch Raven High School in 1981 and from Towson University in 1985 with degrees in mass communications with a journalism concentration and history.