Jan. 24, 2012
Contact: Ken or Kate Gooderham, ASBPA executive directors -- (239) 489-2616
Harry Simmons, ASBPA president -- (910) 200-7867
Federal coastal projects get some funding options
Rule change allows non-federal contributions to help move coastal efforts forward
In any major public works project, timing is crucial. Finishing the job before a crisis becomes a catastrophe is essential – and completing a project in a timely fashion relies on many components that must come together in a finely orchestrated convergence. A central component to that success is funding – the ability to have the money when and where you need it.
When your public works project is something as complicated as beach restoration – with its own set of rules, regulations and requirements layered in atop the usual intricacies of a multimillion-dollar effort – funding is even more crucial. You can’t do half a project and wait until the next appropriations cycle to finish the job, unless you want to watch your investment literally wash away. In beach restoration projects half a project is not better than none, since an engineered beach not built to its original design specifications will not last as long as one which has been properly constructed.
This is why a new provision to federal law is good news for local stakeholders in federal coastal restoration projects. This new provision will help to ensure funding can be there when a project needs to be done – not when the federal government can find a few dollars to send a community’s way. (In previous years projects relied solely on earmarks for funding, federal dollars were often spread around such that a lot of projects got a little each year – but usually not enough to fund the necessary construction.)
Recently adopted revisions to federal law now allow “non-federal sponsors” (i.e. state and local governments or other participants) to contribute money for their federal project (above and beyond that required by any cost-sharing agreement) in order to expedite the project’s progress. No expectation of repayment is implied, and the Chief of Engineers (who oversees all federal projects administered by the Corps of Engineers) has the final say on whether this contribution is in the “public interest.”
What this means is projects once stalled by delays in appropriations due to limited funds or Congress’ failure to pass federal budgets in a timely manner can now get back on track if someone other than the federal government is willing to guarantee the necessary funds will be on hand when needed. Since all federal beach projects involve non-federal sponsors (the federal government at best contributes 65% of a project’s costs, and usually funds 50% or less), any of those sponsors can step in to keep a project on track by putting up the funds necessary to keep working moving forward.
Why would someone do that?
- To get a much-needed project in place before catastrophic damage occurs. By the time a project goes through the federal approval process, a coastal problem can become a catastrophe waiting for the next storm to happen – and timely completion of a restoration can make all the difference in protecting lives, upland properties, and public infrastructure.
- To take advantage of a unique opportunity. If a project can piggy-back on a similar nearby effort, costs can be significantly cut – perhaps even enough to make the contributed funds a bargain in comparison.
- To take advantage of good budget times. Since non-federal sponsors raise revenues from a variety of sources, they may be more able (in terms of having both funding and flexibility) to use money to push a project along.
The original law simply did not allow the Corps to accept outside funds to pay for coastal restoration projects or studies – so willing partners were blocked from helping move a project forward even when the need was clear and the money was in hand. Such is the power of language: This was all achieved with the insertion of slightly more than a dozen words into existing federal law – a minor fix with major impact, proving the devil is in the details even in the law of the land. (The Corps is currently drafting the regulations for this “contributed funds authority,” and cannot accept any such contributions until these rules are in place – hopefully by this summer.)
This change was spearheaded by the American Shore & Beach Preservation Association, at the behest of its members who pushed this issue onto the group’s legislative agenda. With the help of the association’s federal advocates and elected officials who understood the need to create an opportunity for coastal efficiencies, the necessary language was passed into law.
Its ultimate impact may be subtle but, for a community whose federal project has been stuck as residents watched their sand shift away, there will be nothing subtle about moving forward to restore their coast, protect their properties and take a little control over their coastal management. It’s a welcome convergence of good law and good news, hopefully to bring about a few more good projects when and where they’re needed.
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ABOUT ASBPA: Founded in 1926, the ASBPA promotes the integration of science, policies and actions that maintain, protect and enhance the coasts of America. For more information on ASBPA, go to www.asbpa.org, facebook or www.twitter.com/asbpa.