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The Beach Boondoggle, by the New York Times

Stashed in: Awesome, Florida!, Florida, Environmental Impacts, Ecology

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Named storms like Hurricane Matthew can even turn locally funded beach “nourishment” projects into federally funded ones. That’s right: If your community pays for its own beach, and a storm comes along and removes that beach (as we know storms do), then FEMA can come in and have the beach rebuilt. Coastal engineers often use this little-known benefit to sell a beach-nourishment project to a community that is balking at the price of moving sand: “Don’t worry — if a named storm takes away your beach, the federal government will pay and you won’t have to.”

Our research shows that Florida leads the nation in the building of artificial beaches. Federal, state and local governments have already spent around $2 billion over the last few decades on artificial beaches, and they are sure to spend much more in the future. In the four states affected by Hurricane Matthew, there are 67 communities with engineered beaches, and many more planned. The hurricane removed much, and in some places all, of the sand and dunes along these constructed beaches.

For example, the United States Army Corps of Engineers completed a $30 million beach project in Folly Beach, S.C., in 2014. Hurricane Matthew appears to have removed the last vestiges of the recreational beach from that project. The town will now expect the Corps to put it back again.

Why would coastal resort communities expect that it is the federal government’s responsibility to maintain their beaches? Precedent. The Corps is using billions of dollars from the Disaster Relief Appropriations Act of 2013, passed in the wake of Superstorm Sandy, on recovery projects, including what is essentially one giant beach and trapezoidal “dune” from Delaware to the tip of Long Island. Even more startling, the Corps envisions that these artificial beaches will be maintained for 50 years (although who will pay is still to be determined).

The states hit by Hurricane Matthew are going to expect exactly the same.

It is true that beach and dune engineering projects benefit local communities. They can protect oceanfront homes and roads while providing a recreational beach for tourists to play on. But the benefits are temporary and localized. The Corps plan for the newly constructed and proposed New Jersey beaches predicts they will need more sand at least every four to six years. In addition, numerous studies report that the primary beneficiaries of beach stabilization projects are oceanfront property owners.

I had no idea there are so many artificial beaches. Wow. 

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