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Beaches benefit from new Corps work plan

By Staff | Jun 15, 2011

Faced with a new way to decide how to fund the myriad projects it oversees, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers established a new approach to apportionment — and beaches around the country will see the benefit of this new plan in ways not seen in decades.

Given just over $5 billion in funding for its entire Civil Works program in Fiscal Year (FY) 2011, Corps officials developed a work plan to apportion this lump-sum appropriation that resulted in $148 million for coastal projects — the highest total in at least 15 years — with $125 million targeted for sand nourishment projects.

While this falls short of the demonstrated funding need for coastal projects around the country — estimated at more than $450 million by the American Shore & Beach Preservation Association (ASBPA) — the Corps funding far exceeds that budgeted by the Obama administration ($53.2 million), the House ($38.76 million) and the Senate ($115.3 million) for FY 2011.

This also marks a new direction for decisions guiding Corps spending, which in years past had been directed to specific projects by Congress. This fiscal year, Congress spent months wrangling over the size of the FY2011 budget (which began in October 2010). This delay and the current moratorium on Congressional earmarks meant that, for the first time in several years, the Corps had to establish its own funding priorities with little to no Congressional guidance.

Corps officials looked to the president’s budget for projects that could be undertaken in FY 2011, for other projects consistent with the Executive Branch policies, and for ongoing Congressionally authorized projects that could be funded to allow continuation or completion of an incremental phase of work.

“This is an enormous vote of support from Corps headquarters for its coastal stewardship program,” said Howard Marlowe, long-time coastal lobbyist and Director of Government Affairs for ASBPA. “From the Clinton administration through the second Bush administration, the coastal program had been targeted for termination. But it’s not dead or even dying — it’s thriving.”

This work plan funding will likely stay in place at least through the end of the federal government’s 2013 fiscal year (which ends Sept. 30, 2013) — perhaps longer if Congress continues its current stance against earmarks. Plus, this appropriation approach funds only currently authorized federal projects — a process that entails years of study and analysis, followed by Congressional approval. New shoreline efforts seeking federal funding would have to negotiate the authorization gauntlet to be considered.

Still, coastal advocates are heartened by this funding windfall.

“Directing long-overdue federal funding to established and authorized coastal projects is a win-win situation for America,” said Harry Simmons, ASBPA president and mayor of Caswell Beach, NC. “Coastal projects get the money they need to move forward, the Corps gets to exert some control over its coastal program, and the economy gets a quick turnaround infusion as shovel-ready coastal projects can put federal money to use tomorrow.

“Coastal communities around the country can only hope this is the start of a positive new direction for the partnership between the federal government and state and local governments, as the Corps can work to put funding where it will get projects completed more quickly and more effectively,” said Simmons. “For storm protection, for economic vitality and for environmental benefit, a healthy coastline is good for America.”

The bottom line: A change in the federal appropriations process yields positive benefits for America’s coastline.

A description of the Corps’ work-plan process is online at www.usace.army.mil/CEPA/NewsReleases/Pages/CWWorkPlan.aspx.

A breakdown of the entire Corps funding plan (which includes more than just coastal projects) is online at www.usace.army.mil/CECW/PID/Pages/cecwm_progexe.aspx.