Groups Decry Spending $50M to Revitalize Beaches in Front of 'Wealthy People's' Homes

Environmental and fishing groups are decrying New Jersey's plan to spend $50 million on beach protection and replenishment in front of "wealthy people's" homes, saying that the money could go toward more impactful causes, the Associated Press reported. The state plans to increase the funds it spends yearly onshore protection from $25 million to $50 million.

A coalition of the groups visited a beach in Deal, of Monmouth County, that is slated to get new sand next month from a replenishment project worth tens of millions of dollars, the AP reported. Members of the groups said that they should use the funds to more effectively address climate change and the effects of the phenomenon.

One of their suggestions is to use the money to address recurring flooding from the Raritan River and other rivers in northern and central New Jersey.

"Given what just happened with [Tropical Storm] Ida, if the state has an extra $25 million to spend on resiliency or preparing for climate change impacts, should we really be spending it putting sand on the beach in front of wealthy peoples' second homes?″ asked Mike Castellano, chairman of the Jersey Shore chapter of the Surfrider Foundation.

For more reporting from the Associated Press, see below.

Environmental Groups Combat NJ Plan
Environmental and fishing groups are decrying New Jersey’s plan to spend $50 million on beach protection and replenishment in front of “wealthy people’s” homes. Above, John Weber of the Surfrider Foundation speaks at a press conference in Deal, New Jersey, on October 7, 2021. Wayne Parry/AP Photo

Twenty-one groups signed a statement urging the state to reject a bill already passed by the state Senate but awaiting action in the Assembly that would double shore protection funding. That money is used in part for the state's share of beach replenishment work, which is 65 percent funded by the federal government.

"Beach replenishment is not the ultimate solution for dealing with climate change, storm surges and sea level rise," said Taylor McFarland, acting director of the New Jersey Sierra Club. "We have continued to watch failed beach replenishment projects pump millions of dollars of sand out on beaches that just washed away in the next storm."

New Jersey is already acting to address climate change, requiring that it be taken into consideration in all its major policy decisions. In releasing a resiliency strategy in April, the state Department of Environmental Protection warned that it will grow increasingly difficult to live near the shore and recommended incentives for people to move away from the riskiest areas.

And the state, for the first time, acknowledged a potentially unpopular truth: it does not have enough money and resources to build shore protection projects in every vulnerable area along the coast.

Assemblyman Vince Mazzeo, a primary sponsor of the beach funding bill, had no immediate comment Thursday on the coalition's criticism.

Fishing groups said beach replenishment, in which massive amounts of sand are pumped from far offshore onto beaches, smothers and kills marine life, as well as harming the ocean floor in areas from which the sand is taken.

Environmentalists recommended using much or all of the extra $25 million to expand the state's Blue Acres program, which pays to buy and demolish homes in areas that repeatedly flood. Of the hundreds of homes bought and razed thus far, none has been along the ocean because owners have been unwilling to part with the valuable real estate.

John Weber, a Bradley beach councilman and Surfrider Foundation official, suggested the creation of a special taxation district encompassing the oceanfront homes that benefit from beach replenishment, with the resulting money being used to help pay for the cost of the work.

"We have to acknowledge the original sin: we built too close to the ocean," he said. "If we can't admit that, then we get into the mindset of building up the beach and putting more sand on the beach, which is not a long-term solution."

Ida Aftermath in NJ
As New Jersey plans to increase the funds it spends yearly on shore protection, environmental groups are calling on the state to use to extra money to prepare for climate change impacts. Above, business owners in Mamaroneck, NY put out water logged equipment after Hurricane Ida slammed the community, on September 4, 2021. Mary Altaffer/AP Photo