According to the U.S. Census Bureau, 54 percent of America’s population lives within 50 miles of the coast. That number is growing by 3600 people a day! Millions more Americans and foreign tourists visit coastal communities in the warmer months. The primary attraction for both residents and visitors is the beach. In fact, America’s beaches are its single biggest tourist attraction. They are also a source of billions of dollars of local, state and national tax revenues. From t-shirt vendors to banks, airlines, Realtors, and hotels, the beach is a major source of revenues and jobs. Beaches are also a unique part of America’s environmental infrastructure. The sand that is so beautiful is also the home of many coastal animals, birds, plant species and turtles, many of which are on the federal endangered species list. Beaches are also the best protection against wave damage caused by coastal storms.
Given their popularity, economic and environmental importance, and their storm damage reduction benefits, it is surprising that beaches and the communities along the coast are a perpetual target for media attacks. “Playgrounds for the Rich.” “Disasters Waiting to Happen.” Headlines such as these may sell newspapers and advertising space. But many of the buyers of those newspapers are coastal residents or visitors, and many advertisers (not to mention the newspapers themselves) get their corporate pockets lined by selling to the very people they are attacking. Unfortunately, the rhetoric of these self-serving media attacks is built on a foundation of falsehoods. The need to stimulate cash flow can sometimes lead to the publication of material that is at best sensationalist and at worst untrue. It’s time to see how these myths stand up against reality.
Myth: Billions of taxpayer dollars are being spent to repair coastal resorts that are damaged again and again.
Reality: No taxpayer dollars go to repair any resorts. Resorts are not eligible for Federal disaster relief nor can they be covered by the Federal Flood Insurance Program.
Myth: The Federal Flood Insurance Program pays out more in benefits to coastal homeowners than it receives in insurance premiums.
Reality: Homeowners in coastal states annually pay in at least 20 percent more in premiums than they receive in flood insurance payments.
Myth: Billions more are being spent in the “endless” and “useless” struggle to restore eroded beaches.
Reality: Over the past 45 years, the Federal government has spent less than $2 billion on beach restoration. That’s about $44 million a year. That’s less than it costs to build one federal highway interchange! Maintaining our country’s beaches is an ongoing effort, but it is far from useless. Studies have shown that every dollar spent to repair and maintain a beach produces at a very minimum $3 to $5 in taxpayer benefits. In addition, other studies show that restored beaches provide billions of dollars of public and private property protection.
Myth: Spending taxpayer money on beach restoration is a subsidy for rich people.
Reality: This class-baiting rhetoric is especially pernicious. Social scientists have studied America’s beaches. They have found what any of us can conclude with our own eyes: With the exception of shopping malls, sandy beaches attract the most diverse economic, ethnic and racial populations. There is no denying that many of the homes located nearest to any of America’s coastlines are owned by families with above-average incomes. But the only beaches that can receive Federal or state money are public beaches with public access.
Myth: Beach restoration efforts are useless. The better approach is to “let nature take its course.”
Reality: Since the arrival of the first non-Native Americans, humans have built communities and ports along the coast. Ports, navigation channels, and similar development have been an essential ingredient of the economic vitality of America. That development has interfered with the natural flow of sand, causing most of the beach erosion in the U.S. There is no way to “let nature take its course” without reversing the events of the past three centuries. Regrettably, the media attacks only serve to bolster the efforts of a small, but vocal, number of fringe groups who want to force everyone living along America’s coastlines to retreat. To accomplish their agenda, they would impose a different standard on the coast than they do to any other part of our environment. They would implement a purposeful policy of neglect of America’s eroding coastline. None of these people would consider for a moment a policy of even benign neglect of an endangered species or a wildlife refuge. But their”back to nature” appeal is little more than proposing a policy of malignant neglect. By taking this position, they are threatening irreparable harm to an extremely important economic and environmental national asset.
The American Shore and Beach Preservation Association as well as most local coastal governments and private citizens want to restore America’s eroded beaches and preserve the peoples’ opportunity to use these outstanding environmental resources. Our preferred approach to accomplish this goal is to replenish the sand that has been lost because of 300 years of human intervention along the coast. This approach costs money, but it is far preferable to the cheaper alternative of building seawalls to protect coastal property. The media and the fringe groups can continue to attack coastal communities or they can join with us in supporting attainable policies that will repair the damage and encourage responsible growth. Calling for the clock to be turned back three centuries is neither responsible nor attainable.