- The Washington Times - Tuesday, November 23, 2004

VIRGINIA BEACH (AP) — Congress has eliminated more than $13 million in funding to rebuild beaches in this resort city, casting doubt over the future of a program praised for protecting hundreds of properties during Hurricane Isabel.

Virginia Beach relies on the federal government to cover 65 percent of the cost of replenishing sand at the oceanfront resort strip and in Sandbridge, a remote community of beach houses.

The city has a 50-year agreement with the federal government to share the cost of replenishing the beaches every two to three years. Both beaches were to be replenished next year.

City officials said they were disappointed but not surprised by Congress’ decision over the weekend, given the federal budget deficit and the cost of fighting terrorism and the war in Iraq.

“It’s always a fight to get the funding, but we usually get it,” City Manager James K. Spore said. “This time, we didn’t.”

Sen. John W. Warner, Virginia Republican, thinks the sand-replenishment program is an “important and worthwhile project that unfortunately did not receive federal funding this year because of the tight budget environment,” spokesman John Ullyot said.

Virginia Beach and the federal government teamed up on the $125 million hurricane-protection project at the oceanfront, which was known as Operation Big Beach and included a new boardwalk and seawall, pump stations and a 300-foot-wide beach.

After Isabel in September 2003, the Army Corps of Engineers estimated that the seawall and extra sand spared $105 million worth of property.

They undercut and blunt the big waves driven by storms. The wider the beach, the more a wave’s energy can be diminished before it pounds the shore.

City Council member Richard A. Maddox said he is losing his patience with the federal government.

“I think it’s wrong,” he said. “They made a commitment to us. We’ve fulfilled our end of the deal, and here they are pulling the plug.”

Mr. Maddox said the city might have to find ways to pay the entire bill for replenishment, such as creating a special property-tax district at the resort that would let the city use part of the additional revenues for projects.

Sandbridge has a special tax district and a services district, which have helped pay for sand and other public improvements. But it’s not enough to cover the federal government’s portion.

Mr. Spore said he doesn’t want the city to go it alone.

“Those beaches are a federal asset and used by everyone in the country,” he said. “It would be ill-advised for any municipality to take it on exclusively as their responsibility.”

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