The Dredges Liberty Island, Dodge Island, Padre Island and Terrapin Island, of Great Lakes Dredge & Dock Company, pump sand onto Brant Beach, NJ in June of 2013. Credit: U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Flickr (CC BY 2.0)

Coastal Barrier Resources Act: New Conservation Plan Sparks Fight Over Sand

Beach communities that rely on dredging to replenish protective dunes object to expanded federal protections

A Trump administration proposal to vastly expand federal conservation land along the East Coast is facing protests from states and communities that say the plan will damage tourism industries that are still recovering from Superstorm Sandy in 2012.

The dispute is unfolding from Maryland to Massachusetts as officials and homeowners object to a plan by the Fish and Wildlife Service to add 275,000 acres to a federal protection zone. It’s one of the largest expansions of the Coastal Barrier Resources System in its 37-year history.

The expansion will strengthen the East Coast’s “resiliency and sustainability” following Sandy, which killed 72 people in the U.S. and caused $65 billion in domestic damage, the agency says.

The epicenter of the battle is the New Jersey shore, where expanded conservation areas would interfere with beach replenishment and protection projects essential to sustaining the legendary tourist destination, state and local officials say.

“New Jersey generates billions of dollars from tourism and property values. Everybody benefits from this,” said Scott Wahl, Avalon Borough’s business administrator, referring to beach-refilling projects in his southern New Jersey seaside community. “This is not to benefit a bunch of rich people who live along the shore.”

The controversy recently drew in Rep. Jeff Van Drew, a Democrat representing southern New Jersey. He wrote a letter March 14 imploring FWS to let shore communities continue to dredge sand from a federal conservation area to refill nearby beaches that are constantly eroded by tides.

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