Magazine article Insight on the News

Budget Riptide Hits the Beach

Magazine article Insight on the News

Budget Riptide Hits the Beach

Article excerpt

At bucolic Virginia Beach, the ocean laps calmly at the shore as sandpipers skitter along its foamy edge. But just two months ago, Hurricane Felix's gale-force winds tossed thunderous waves at the foundations of oceanfront homes and resorts.

In the wake of a relentless hurricane season, dozens of seaside cities are clinging to an increasingly precious marine commodity: sand, priced $6 and up per cubic yard. During the last three decades, federal and state governments have spent billions to reconstruct eroded beaches, in part subsidizing wealthy property-owners 'exclusive ocean views.

Earlier this year, however, President Clinton proposed cutting assistance for hundreds of beach-rebuilding programs on both coasts. His initiative would reduce the federal contribution to beach-replenishment projects from about 65 percent to 25 percent and restrict spending to projects of "national scope and significance."

"At a time when we're talking about taking lunches away from children and Medicare away from the elderly, this is a stark, stark, comparison," says Beth Millemand, executive director of Coastal Alliance, a national nonprofit enviromnental group. "Dedicating federal dollars to protect ocean views is clearly an elitist agenda."

Withdrawing volte-face from the ocean's force is nothing new in American history. Before most beach replenishment projects began, it was commonplace for seaside homes m Virginia and South Carolina to collapse unfettered in the relentless surf. (Such an event is depicted as a romantic epiphany in this summer's best-seller, Beach Music, by Pat Conroy, set in the early 1950s.) But as the East Coast braced itself against a surging hurricane season - 10 have hit the Atlantic Coast this year - enviromnentalists and geologists joined forces to attack programs they dubbed "coastal pork."

"Many people liken beach replenishment to the Gospel story about the foolish man who built his house on the sand," Orrin Pilkey, geology professor at Duke University, tells Insight. "The rain came down, the streams rose, and the winds blew and beat against the house and it fell with a great crash."

To make matters worse, scientists exploring trends in global warming have demonstrated a steady rise in the Earth's oceans during the last century. As sea level rises and time goes by, eventually we won't be worried about Ocean City, Md.," Pilkey says. "We'll be worried about places like the island of Manhattan and the city of Charleston."

Businessmen at Virginia Beach, however, refuse to surrender to displays of power by nature or the president. In 1962, 262,000 cubic yards of sand were added to the beach berm at the local resort of Sandbridge just miles from Virginia Beach. …

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