The politics of sand and Congress at work.
The quote below stands out..
Beaches are public, but access is private.
Worldandnation: You bought this beach
Rep. C.W. Bill Young, shown on Belleair Beach, says the sand must be replaced. "If you didn't control it in Pinellas, look at all the homes out there you would eventually lose." As chairman of the House Appropriations Committee, he plays a key role in allocating renourishment money.
MONMOUTH BEACH, N.J. -- Across the street from his million-dollar home, Michael Schottland has a spectacular beach.
Thanks to a 10-foot sea wall, private stairways and lots of No Trespassing signs, Schottland and his neighbors often have the sand to themselves.
"It's a gorgeous thing to have the beach here," he says. "I can see Long Island on a clear day."
Schottland, a prominent lawyer, is accustomed to paying his own way. He built his house three years ago and pays $12,000 a year in property taxes. But this sand is your sand: The federal government shelled out $6.7-million per mile to put it here.
Schottland and his neighbors in the wealthy town on the central Jersey shore are beneficiaries of beach renourishment, a federal program that pumps sand onto select shorelines from New Jersey to California to Florida.
The subsidized sand protects homes and highways from flooding, but it also boosts real estate values and encourages more coastal development.
"This is truly welfare for the rich," says Duke University professor Orrin Pilkey, a longtime critic of the program. "God knows, there are some very powerful people on these beaches."
Indeed, Congress picks the beaches based on politics and lobbying rather than environmental science. And the millions of taxpayers who pay the bill often can't get to the sand, as coastal towns devise creative ways to discourage the public from using the public beaches.
Yet critics say the massive federal program is paying for the mistakes of states and towns that allowed too much coastal development.
Belleair Beach has deftly exploited loopholes in federal rules so its residents aren't bothered by outsiders. Officially, the parking lot for the town marina is supposed to be a public lot for beachgoers. But the lot is unlined, unpaved and mostly unnoticed.
It's across the street from the beach and there is no crosswalk. Anyone who manages to find the parking lot must dodge traffic on Gulf Boulevard to get to the sand.
Meanwhile, parking on the gulf side of the boulevard is for residents only -- a provision so strictly enforced that one city resident, whose home is in his wife's name, says he was required to get a note from her before he could park.
On the Web site of the Tampa Bay Beaches Chamber of Commerce, potential visitors to Belleair Beach get this explanation: "Beaches are public, but access is private."
In Monmouth Beach, there's an even bigger obstacle: an imposing 10-foot sea wall that stretches for several miles. Built to protect the town from Nor'easters, the stone wall also fends off visitors who want to enjoy the federal sand.
Wooden stairways -- most privately owned with No Trespassing signs -- are the only way over the wall.
As for Belleair Beach, Pinellas County coastal coordinator Jim Terry says it meets federal requirements for parking "reasonably near" the beach and pedestrian access "at suitable intervals."
If you read the rules, you might think beaches are picked for federal sand based on a complicated formula about storm damage and flooding. But it's mostly politics, with a little science thrown in for good measure. DeButts, the head of public works for Avalon, calls it "the game."
Although the Corps of Engineers analyzes each project, Congress decides which projects get built. What matters is raw political clout and whether a lawmaker has the chops to insert a local project in a bill.
DeButts says there is a little science involved, but the real way to get money is to "duke it out in D.C." His town hired Howard Marlowe, ...
In "the game," Congress makes no systematic effort to assess the national needs or prioritize the projects. Committees don't study which beaches are most deserving or have the most critical problems. Instead, sand projects are quietly tucked inside bills, often at the last minute.