Every year, millions in state and federal tax dollars are spent to heap tons of sand on America’s beaches. This process is known as beach renourishment and proponents, who often reside near beaches, argue this method is an effective way to fight against both man-made and natural erosion. But regardless of the cause, renourishment is only a stop gap measure that fails to address the underlying issue. The well-intentioned fight against the process of erosion comes at a high price for both the environment and taxpayers.
For example, New Jersey’s state, local, and federal agencies spent $1.2 billion over the last thirty years to dump 120 million cubic yards of sand over the state’s coastline. To put this into perspective, this amount of sand could fill a typical dump truck 12 million times.This high price tag is in part due to the fact that the sand placed on the coastline quickly erodes back into the ocean and a new project must again be undertaken. In fact, sand used to renourish beaches erodes at a rate that is often two to three times faster than natural sand.This creates a cycle in which beaches constantly need to be renourished and does nothing to actually prevent the process of erosion. Many areas of Florida have begun to run out of sand for these projects and are considering purchasing sand from the Bahamas to fulfill their needs.
The federal government, through the Army Corps of Engineers, bears primary responsibility for these renourishment projects. Steve Ellis, vice president of Taxpayers for Common Sense, explains that roughly 65 percent of the cost of beach renourishment programs is paid for by the federal government, as well as 50 to 65 percent of the maintenance is covered by the federal government. This means that states without coastlines are helping to foot a majority of the bill for renourishment, which in turn benefits the tourism and beachfront real estate industries of the coastal states.
Renourishment is often seen as a means to protect wildlife habitat from the effects of erosion. However, there are significant environmental costs. The process of beach renourishment is relatively quick, often making it difficult for organisms and wildlife to adapt to these rapid changes. Sea turtles can have trouble making it up steeper hills to lay their eggs, and clams struggle to survive in the muddy water that renourishment creates.
The United States Lifesaving Association (USLA), has found that the year of or the year after renourishment there will often be a considerable spike in major medical injuries, a challenge for beach goers. Although there has yet to be a study finding a direct link between replenishment and injuries, it is believed that the steep drops near the shoreline created by renourishment may be the cause. The beach in Ocean City, Maryland saw an increase from 87 injuries in 2006 to 345 the year after a renourishment project . Following a second renourishment project in 2010, injuries rose from 233 to 306 in 2011. Any potential link between increased injury and renourishment is worth investigating before more tax dollars are committed to these projects.
Trying to engineer against erosion by continually adding sand to the nation’s beaches is an extremely costly endeavor that fails to solve the problem. Like so many other government schemes, it is rife with unintended consequences that increase the true cost to the environment, beach goers, and taxpayers. This is an all too common refrain when it comes to the Army Corps of Engineers. Before more tax dollars are committed to wasteful projects, Congress should insist on a more rigorous process to determine whether new plans are necessary, cost-effective, and, perhaps most important, that they won’t do more harm than good.