Statement of Stephen H. Higgins
Broward County Department of Natural Resource Protection
June 23, 1998 Hearing
Proposals for a Water Resources Development Act of 1998

Developing an Enhanced National Shoreline Protection Program

Summary

1. Sandy beaches are a critical, integral part of the Nation's coastal infrastructure, providing the first line of defense against storm waves and forming the basis for the economic vitality of many coastal communities, regions and states. We believe that federal, state, and local investments in beach erosion control and in the proper management of beaches, inlets, and shorelines are returned many times over in revenues generated by tourism and commerce, by tax increases inspired by higher property values and incomes, by mitigation of storm wave damage to property and infrastructure, and by the elevation of the quality of life for coastal residents and visitors.

2. Sand replenishment has been shown time and time again to be an effective method of shore protection based on both engineering and fiscal criteria.

3. The federal role in shore protection and beach erosion control is clearly prescribed by current law, including the Shore Protection Act of 1996 (section 227 of the Water Resources Development Act of 1996).

4. The Administration's policy, announced in 1995, to terminate federal financial assistance for most new shoreline protection projects is already harming America's sandy beaches. Congress has repeatedly rejected that policy. However, the Administration has persisted in its efforts to enforce its policy.

5. Contrary to Section 227 of WRDA '96, the Corps of Engineers is not on its own initiative conducting reconnaissance studies of new shoreline protection projects. It is not on its own initiative conducting feasibility studies of such projects, nor is it recommending to Congress the authorization of new shoreline protection projects. What work it is doing is either to complete its contractual responsibilities with regard to a dwindling number of shoreline protection projects or in response to congressional directives to proceed with studies. As of this date, there is not one new shoreline protection project which is under construction in the nation using a single dollar of federal funds.

6. The American Coastal Coalition calls on this Subcommittee to insist, as part of WRDA '98, that the White House Office of Management and Budget and the Army Corps of Engineers implement the letter and spirit of the Shoreline Protection Act of 1996 and the vast body of other federal laws which clearly establish a federal role and responsibility to participate in the repair and maintenance of sandy beaches.

7. While we believe it is appropriate for OMB to initiate discussions of enhancements to national shoreline protection policy, its first responsibility is to implement existing law and policy as established by Congress. If the Administration believes that changes in the national shoreline protection program need to be made, it should lay its proposals before Congress. Until that time, the bickering on this subject between the Administration and Congress must end. It is not serving the Administration's professed goal of achieving fiscal restraint. And it is not promoting the responsible management of America's coastal resources.

8. While we await any proposals that may be forthcoming from the Administration, there are steps that can be taken in WRDA '98 that will make significant improvements in the national shoreline protection program.

A. We urge Congress to direct by statute that shoreline protection is one of the Corps' primary missions. Currently, the Corps' shoreline protection role is an outgrowth of its storm protection, flood control, and environmental restoration missions. Shoreline protection should not be a Corps stepchild.

B. Congress should direct the Corps to conduct its benefit-cost analysis of prospective shoreline protection projects by assessing the regional and national economic impact of the proposed project. Currently, the Corps limits its assessment primarily to an evaluation of property that is immediately adjacent to the beach. In no way does that limited analysis show (a) whether there is a national interest in constructing the project, or (b) what benefits can be expected to flow to businesses, jobs, or tax revenues at the regional or national levels from constructing a shoreline protection project. This regional economic benefit analysis was included in the language of the Shore Protection Act as passed by the House in 1996, but it was dropped in conference.

C. We recommend the establishment of a National Shoreline and Shore Erosion Data Bank. Several federal agencies currently collect or have the ability to collect data that is vital to the management of our coastlines. In addition, data is collected by states, academic institutions, and private sector research facilities. To facilitate the long-term management of our shorelines, all interests should have access to all of the useful data they need to make responsible policy determinations. The authorization of a National Shoreline and Shore Erosion Data Bank in WRDA '98 and the funding of that Bank in the Energy and Water Development Appropriations Bill for Fiscal 1999 and beyond would be a significant step toward pulling together and augmenting the available data and establishing a mechanism for its maintenance and dissemination.

D. We call on Congress to authorize a new National Shoreline Study to assess the regional and national economic impacts of beaches and to take a complete inventory of the condition of the nation's sandy beaches. The last inventory was taken in the late 1 960's, and there has never been a national assessment of the economic impacts of beaches. Without this data, it is impossible for Congress to consider major changes in national shoreline protection policy or to budget for the federal share of beach repair and maintenance.

E. The federal government has a statutory and moral responsibility to mitigate the damage it has caused to beaches by constructing dams, dredging channels, and other similar actions. Language should be included in WRDA '98 which assures that this mitigation responsibility can be used as the basis for federal participation in a shore protection project.

F. One immediate change in policy that we strongly recommend would direct the Corps to place beach quality sand dredged from channels on adjacent beaches, regardless of whether it is the 'least cost option.' On many occasions, dredged material is disposed in the ocean because placement on a nearby public beach is not deemed by the Corps to be the 'least cost option.' Subsequently, taxpayers pay for pumping that sand back onto the beach as part of a shore protection project. Thus, the 'least cost option' too often may result in a higher cost to taxpayers. We support statutory language in WRDA '98 that directs the placement of beach quality sand dredged from a navigation project on nearby public beaches unless such disposal is not economically and environmentally sound.

G. In some areas of the country, near-shore sources of sand for beach nourishment are becoming scarce. Recognizing this fact, Congress adopted legislation making it possible for the Minerals Management Service to enter into agreements with the Federal government as well as with non-Federal sponsors of beach nourishment projects to acquire sand from the Outer Continental Shelf. While Congress gave MMS the discretion to determine if it should charge non-Federal sponsors for this sand, the MMS has determined that, as a matter of policy, it will impose a charge. This will increase costs to state and local governments unnecessarily. Therefore, the American Coastal Coalition supports statutory language which removes from MMS the discretion to charge any fee for OCS sand to a non-Federal sponsor of a federally-authorized shore protection project. While this issue is not technically within the jurisdiction of this Committee, we believe that the jurisdictional issue can be overcome.

H. Among other changes that we recommend for your consideration is a requirement that the Corps implement a systems approach to sediment management using projects already in the pipeline as well as new projects in different parts of the country, and to analyze and report to Congress by a date certain on the effectiveness of this approach. This can be done in WRDA'98 with the actual funding of projects provided in the Energy and Water Development Appropriations Bills for FY 1999 and beyond. The testing of the systems approach to sediment management should in no way be used to defer any existing shoreline protection projects. In addition, we urge that Congress require the Corps to approach shoreline protection and navigation projects on a programmatic basis, rather than a project-by-project basis. Logic says that a programmatic approach to the planning of these two types of projects will provide Congress with the information it needs to make better decisions about project funding. That, however, may not be the case in all parts of the country. Once again, WRDA '98 can be used to direct the Corps to implement a programmatic approach and report to Congress by a date certain. We urge this Subcommittee to make it clear that the implementation of this and any other new shoreline protection mandates not be used in any way to defer action on existing or new shoreline protection projects.

Mr. Chairman, thank you for this opportunity to lay before this Subcommittee some of the most pressing shore protection policy issues. We hope that your efforts will bring a swift end to the impasse between Congress and the Administration so that the nation's coastal and fiscal resources will be better managed. I ask your permission to include our full statement in the hearing record.


Full Statement of Stephen H. Higgins, Beach Erosion Administrator
Broward County Department of Natural Resource Protection
Proposals for a Water Resources Development Act of 1998

Introduction

The American Coastal Coalition is the rapidly-growing voice of U.S. coastal communities at the federal level of government. Established nearly three years ago, our membership consists of local governments, local government officials, business people, property owners, and others who live or work in America's coastal communities. We appreciate this opportunity to appear today. While our organization focuses on several key areas of federal policy, my testimony today will focus on national shoreline protection policy.

The American Coastal Coalition affirms that America's beaches are a critical, integral part of the Nation's coastal infrastructure, providing the first line of defense against storm waves and forming the basis for the economic vitality of many coastal communities, regions and states. We believe that federal, state, and local investments in beach erosion control and in the proper management of beaches, inlets, and shorelines are returned many times over in revenues generated by tourism and commerce, by tax increases inspired by higher property values and incomes, by mitigation of storm wave damage to property and infrastructure, and by the elevation of the quality of life for coastal residents and visitors. Recent studies and surveys have documented the economic value of beaches to specific local communities, regions, and states, and while such studies are just beginning to be undertaken on a national level, it is intuitively obvious that thriving local, regional, and state coastal economies are necessary factors in a healthy national economy.

We firmly believe that beach nourishment is an effective method of shore protection based on engineering and fiscal criteria. By beach nourishment, we refer to sand placement or sand replenishment. The American Coastal Coalition believes that the federal role in shore protection and beach erosion control is clearly prescribed by current law, including the Shore Protection Act of 1996 (section 227 of the Water Resources Development Act of 1996). Efforts to substantially reduce and eventually eliminate this role are clearly counterproductive. We believe that while historical federal activities in this arena have been successful in terms of benefits and costs, current fiscal constraints as well as coastal engineering advances over the past quarter century mandate the development of an enhanced shoreline protection program based on policy clarity, comprehensiveness, economic efficiency, and technical effectiveness.

Furthermore, we believe the federal government must participate in the management of the nation's sandy shoreline. This includes a strong fiscal commitment to sharing the costs of construction and periodic maintenance of beach nourishment projects with states and/or local governments. We believe this fiscal commitment can be fulfilled without significantly increasing federal expenditure levels beyond those of recent years.

Recently, the White House Office of Management and Budget held a meeting attended by coastal residents, government officials, engineers, and economists to discuss shoreline protection policy. While we welcome this discussion and hope that it will produce concrete proposals during this session of Congress, we are deeply concerned that it comes after three years of efforts to eliminate federal participation in beach nourishment projects. Prior to the initiation of those efforts, the federal-state-local government partnership in beach nourishment had functioned as an outstanding example of inter-governmental cooperation to protect a vital part of the Nation's infrastructure. The past three years, however, have seen everdecreasing requests by the Administration for the funding of this program. In fact, the agreement to establish a Working Group to discuss shoreline protection policy came only days after an Administration FY '99 budget request of less than a fourth of the level appropriated by Congress for shore protection in FY '98.

Based on the actions of the Administration over the past three years, the American Coastal Coalition will continue to work with Congress to enact changes in law during the current congressional session which will improve the effectiveness and fiscal responsibility of the national shore protection program. We seek the support of the Administration for these changes, which are based on the fundamental concept of strong federal participation in the repair and maintenance of those sandy beaches that meet the standards for federal participation established by law.

The American Coastal Coalition believes that the first responsibility of national shore protection policy must be to mitigate the harm to sandy beaches which has been caused by actions of the federal government. We believe that, wherever such harm has been caused, the federal government has a statutory responsibility to undertake any and all reasonable actions necessary to repair the beach erosion it has caused and to undertake additional steps to take effective action that will mitigate future damages, as well.

Furthermore, we believe the federal government must participate in the management of the nation's sandy shoreline. This includes a strong fiscal commitment to sharing the costs of construction and periodic maintenance of beach nourishment projects with states and/or local governments. We believe this fiscal commitment can be fulfilled without significantly increasing federal expenditure levels beyond those of recent years.

Not every sandy beach is an appropriate candidate for beach nourishment. For the large number which are, there must be an understanding and acceptance of the fact that beach nourishment has as its objective the reconstruction of a beach so that the net loss of sand caused by wave action and storms_and in many cases exacerbated by the existence of inlets and other forms of human intervention_is slowed to a minimum.

So long as we look at each "beach project" in a microcosm, we lose sight of the fact that it is part of a natural sand system that, in many cases, has been altered by human intervention. The existence of an inlet, for example, will naturally trap sand upward of the inlet, causing an accretion of sand, while starving the downward beach of sand. Beach nourishment can slow the net loss of sand on the downward portion of the beach, but it is highly unlikely to make that downward beach totally self-sustaining. Future periodic renourishment_meaning placing sand from an accreting region on all or part of the sand-starved portion of the beach_is an integral part of the beach nourishment process. It is by no means a sign of the failure of beach nourishment, but rather is a necessary and acceptable maintenance of critical infrastructure.

The American Coastal Coalition is greatly concerned about the potential for loss of lives and coastal property due to storms waves and surge. We believe that as a matter of general policy, healthy beaches with stable dunes afford the most effective and environmentally sound approach to protecting life and property while at the same time protecting and enhancing the economic and environmental interests of the region and the nation.

Withdrawing from our coastlines is an unacceptable alternative to beach nourishment. The history of mankind is replete with evidence that people are drawn to coastlines for both economic and recreational reasons. Unless the coasts are cordoned off with barbed wire, that attraction will continue. Hindsight shows that some areas of the coastline are less conducive to the recreational and/or economic presence of human beings than others. That is equally true of the significant development which has taken place in riverine areas of the nation. Using the combined tools of effective shoreline protection and hazard mitigation, the costs of maintaining these coastal regions and reducing the losses resulting from natural disasters can be substantially reduced. "Retreat" from highly developed coastlines, busy recreational beaches, or urbanized shorefronts is not an option.

We are opposed to over-development of coastal areas, and we believe that it is often appropriate for governmental policies to discourage or prohibit the development of pristine, undeveloped regions of the coastline. However, the only situations in which "retreat" is appropriate are those where the local community has decided to take that course. Federal policies should neither dictate retreat or make retreat necessary by withholding appropriate assistance (i.e., beach nourishment) from those regions which have been determined to meet accepted engineering and economic criteria for erosion control, and which are willing to share the costs and responsibilities of beach management with the federal government.

To achieve the level of funding for the study and construction of projects currently in the pipeline as well as to fund some or all of the initiatives discussed below, the American Coastal Coalition believes that the Congressional Budget Resolution must include an adequate amount for "Function 300" (which includes, but is not limited, to the Corps civil works program) and which includes report language which states that the Budget Committees place a priority on the full range of water projects that are included within this budget function.

Immediate Initiatives to Improve the Management of the Nation's Sandy Beaches

Knowing that significant changes in the national shoreline protection program must be implemented with caution over time, we nevertheless believe that a limited number of policy changes should be implemented during the current congressional session. Each of these will assist in the planning, implementation, and management of an enhanced federal shoreline protection program, regardless of the specific elements of that program.

These initiatives include--

1. Establishment of a National Shoreline and Shore Erosion Data Bank. Several federal agencies currently collect or have the ability to collect data that is vital to the management of our coastlines. In addition, data is collected by states, academic institutions, and private sector research facilities. To facilitate the long-term management of our shorelines, all interests should have access to all of the useful data they need to make responsible policy determinations. The authorization of a National Shoreline and Shore Erosion Data Bank in WRDA '98 and the funding of that Bank in the Energy and Water Development Appropriations Bill for Fiscal 1999 and beyond would be a significant step toward pulling together and augmenting the available data and establishing a mechanism for its maintenance and dissemination.

2. Study of the Regional and National Economic Impacts of Beaches. Numerous studies on the local, county and state levels have shown the positive effect on regional economies and on the national economy, as well. What is needed is a nationwide study using uniform economic criteria that will reveal the magnitude and geographical dispersion of that benefit. Such a study must be authorized in WRDA '98 and funded in the Energy and Water Development Appropriations Bill for Fiscal 1999 and beyond.

3. Strengthening National Policy to Mandate Shore Protection as a Corps Responsibility. It is the intent of section 227 of the Water Resources Development Act of 1996 (known as the Shore Protection Act) to make shore protection one of the primary missions of the Corps of Engineers. However, given the fact that the Corps has not interpreted this statutory language as creating such a mission, language must be included in WRDA '98 which will accomplish this significant goal. Shore protection must no longer be considered ancillary to any of the Corps' other missions.

4. Strengthening National Policy on Mitigation as a Basis for Undertaking Shore Protection Projects. As stated above, the federal government has a responsibility to mitigate the damage it has caused to beaches by constructing dams, dredging channels, and other similar actions. Language must be included in WRDA '98 which assures that this mitigation responsibility can be used as the basis for federal participation in shore protection projects.

5. Examine the Feasibility of a Systems Approach to Sediment Management. We must require the Corps to implement a systems approach to sediment management using projects already in the pipeline as well as new projects in different parts of the country, and to analyze and report to Congress by a date certain on the effectiveness of this approach. This can be done in WRDA '98 with the actual funding of projects provided in the Energy and Water Development Appropriations Bills for FY 1999 and beyond. The testing of the systems approach to sediment management should in no way be used to defer any existing shoreline protection projects.

6. Examine the Feasibility of a Programmatic Approach to Funding Shoreline Protection. This is the logical complement to a systems approach to sediment management and the Data Bank, as well. If we approach shoreline protection and navigation projects on a programmatic basis_rather than a project-by-project basis_logic says that it will provide Congress with the information it needs to make better decisions about project funding. That, however, may not be the case in all parts of the country. Once again, WRDA '98 can be used to direct the Corps to implement a programmatic approach and report to Congress by a date certain. Here, too, this mandate should not be used in any way to defer action on existing or new shoreline protection projects.

7. Increase Funding for Coastal Research and Development. Federal financial support for R&D efforts must be increased so that we can acquire the data needed to enable both the federal government and state governments to more effectively plan for and manage shore protection projects. Therefore, we support increased funding for the R&D efforts under the Corps' Coastal Engineering Research Center.

8. Fund the Shoreline Demonstration Program. Ademonstration program to test alternative shoreline protection technologies in different parts of the country was authorized by WRDA '96 for a total of $18 million over three years. So far, no money has been appropriated for this program. We urge funding this program at a level of $6 million annually for Fiscal 1999, 2000, and 2001. It has been several years since the federal government funded such a demonstration program. During that time, coastal engineers and scientists have learned a great deal. That knowledge should be field-tested to see what works and under what conditions, if any, does it work.

9. Beneficial Uses of Dredged Material. One immediate change in policy would direct the Corps to place beach quality sand dredged from channels on adjacent beaches, regardless of whether it was the "least-cost option." On many occasions, dredged material is disposed in the ocean because placement on a nearby public beach is not deemed by the Corps to be the "least-cost option." Subsequently, taxpayers pay for pumping that sand back onto the beach as part of a shore protection project. Thus, the "least-cost option" too often may result in a higher cost to taxpayers. We support statutory language in WRDA '98 that directs the placement of beach quality sand dredged from a navigation project on nearby public beaches unless such disposal is not economically and environmentally sound.

10. Non-Federal Sponsors Should Not be Charged for Using OCS Sand. In some areas of the country, near-shore sources of sand for beach nourishment are becoming scarce. Recognizing this fact, Congress adopted legislation making it possible for the Minerals Management Service to enter into agreements with the Federal government as well as with non-Federal sponsors of beach nourishment projects to acquire sand from the Outer Continental Shelf. While Congress gave MMS the discretion to determine if it should charge non-Federal sponsors for this sand, the MMS has determined that, as a matter of policy, it will impose a charge. This will increase costs to state and local governments unnecessarily. Therefore, the American Coastal Coalition supports statutory language which removes from MMS the discretion to charge any fee for OCS sand to a non-Federal sponsor of a federally-authorized shore protection project.

Longer-Term Initiatives

The American Coastal Coalition supports an enhanced national shoreline protection policy which is based on a strong federal partnership with states and local governments in rebuilding and maintaining public sandy beaches. We believe that the annual federal investment in this part of our coastal infrastructure can remain in the very modest range of $100 million to $150 million well into the next century.

We believe that the current balance of the federal-state-local partnership should be modified to give a stronger role to states and local governments in the management and implementation of shoreline protection policies, and that state and local interests should assume an increased responsibility for sharing the monetary and non-monetary costs of such management. Equally, we believe that the current federal process of selecting which beaches are suitable for federal shore protection assistance and of implementing that assistance must also be enhanced in a manner which establishes clearer and more rational participation criteria, increases the effectiveness of shoreline protection projects, achieves regional goals, and reduces costs.

Toward these ends, we believe that the federal government should share with state and local governments the costs of both constructing and maintaining beach nourishment projects. The issues of (a) the proportion of the cost-share borne by the federal government, (b) the method used to determine the economic benefits of a proposed shore protection project, and (c) the statutory life of a project should be discussed in light of both the availability of federal funds and the need to increase the role and responsibilities of the non-federal sponsors of such projects. Furthermore, we believe that consideration should be given to increasing the reliance placed on state and local governments as well as the private sector in conducting studies and construction of beach nourishment projects.

The American Coastal Coalition believes the discussion of these and other aspects of national horeline protection policy should take place only in an environment where there is a clear commitment on the part of the Administration to a strong federal role in the repair and maintenance of the Nation's sandy beaches.

We are hopeful that current discussions involving Congress, the Administration, and the private sector will produce legislative proposals that will address both the rebalancing of the partnership and the project selection and anagement process. We ask those charged with making government policy to make changes in the current federal shore protection program carefully and deliberately, relying on an analysis of project- and process-related data to determine which changes are most likely to be effective. This emphasis on prudence should not be misinterpreted as providing a basis to slow, cease, or prevent action on the study, authorization, funding, or construction of any shore protection project.

Thank you for this opportunity to present our views to this Subcommittee today.