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Cuts in fed funds threaten Rockaway Beach shores

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While the Rockaway shoreline might appear pristine, the beach has been fighting erosion problems for years with the help of federal and state funding.

Under the proposed budget, Rockaway Beach would lose $11 million and beaches statewide would lose nearly $160 million to combat the erosion, according to a study conducted by U.S. Rep. Anthony Weiner's (D-Rockaway) office.

Beach erosion occurs when the amount of sand on the beach cannot keep up with the amount being pulled into the water.

In the past, the erosion could be stopped or slowed by conducting studies and renourishment efforts such as pumping tons of sand back onto those beaches and building groins and jetties to protect beaches from surfs, storm surges and tidal currents. But these projects are costly, and without federal help they are unlikely to take off.

In 2001 the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers engaged in a "beach nourishment" project to combat similar beach erosion. Nearly half the sand on the beach had been washed away by two months of storms, and the project cost $5.7 million for only a section of the beach.

Department of Parks Manager for Rockaway Beach Joe Bonkowski said while the projects may be costly, they need to be done.

"Beaches are essentially man-made," Bonkowski said, "and they need to be replenished."

Weiner said despite this grave need for projects and research to save the beaches, the Bush budget simply neglects the issue.

"There's a new bully on the beach, and he's kicking sand into the face of New York City," Weiner said. "President Bush is literally starving our beaches of the sand they need to survive. He's the worst thing to happen to summer since 'Jaws.'"

Normally restoration projects and studies are headed by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers with 65 percent of the funding coming from the federal government, according to Weiner's study.

The new budget, however, implements a policy change where there will be no funding for long-term renourishment and a 50 percent cut in funds allocated for shore protection projects, helping only four out of all the beaches in New York.

Weiner said the drastic change in federal funding poses a great threat for the projects. The large expense of these projects requires federal help to maintain the beaches, he said.

"These can be long-term and very expensive projects. That's why the federal government has historically picked up the majority of the cost," Weiner said. "But if President Bush gets his way, that will no longer be true. The new Bush budget slashes the federal commitment to beach protection efforts, putting some of New York's signature beaches at risk."

Many residents and beach-goers had no idea about the cuts to funding for their treasured beaches but hoped that somehow they would be saved and protected as they had been over the past several years.

Since 1999 Weiner's office has secured more than $12 million to fight erosion at Rockaway Beach, he said.

"We've made some real progress," he said, "but with an environmentally hostile administration occupying the White House, there is much work yet to be done."

Reach intern Mallory Simon by e-mail at news@timesledger.com.

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