Shoring up the shoreline

November 21, 2005

Next spring, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers will likely pay a contractor upward of $10 million to pump offshore sand along Ocean City's beachfront. If all goes as expected, much of this sand will be washed away over the next four years. That sounds like a boondoggle. But oddly enough, it isn't. Beach replenishment is a smart investment - and one the White House and Congress almost didn't pull off.

As Katrina demonstrated to the Gulf Coast this year, wind and water can inflict tremendous damage. Because the government failed to spend a few billion dollars to protect New Orleans from calamity, the nation is going to pay tens of billions to put it back together. In Ocean City, sand plays a role very much like seawalls. It helps prevent flooding and absorbs the destructive blows of the Atlantic Ocean's heavy surf.

At stake are all those high-rise condos, homes and businesses on the island. Collectively, they're valued at close to $5 billion. Ocean City is a tremendous economic asset for Maryland, generating an estimated $248 million annually in state and federal taxes. Pay a $10 million premium every four years to ensure against a multibillion-dollar loss? That's a bargain.

But the White House didn't allocate any money for Ocean City's beach protection this year. Neither did the House. It required intervention by Sens. Barbara A. Mikulski and Paul S. Sarbanes to get the corps' $4.9 million share in the budget approved by Congress last week. The state and local governments have set aside more than enough money to pay their half of the cost.

Hurricane season is over. But the Nor'easter season - often the greater threat to Ocean City - has just begun. Some argue that building a resort city on the shifting sands of a barrier island wasn't prudent. Perhaps. But Ocean City is here to stay - we hope. Government can pay to keep it safe now - or pay a lot more to repair it later.

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