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The old-timers remember when 40 feet of beach separated Lake Riviera from the choppy waves at the mouth of the Patapsco River.

But thesands have shifted and all that separates the tidal waters from a dozen lakefront homes is an ever-narrowing isthmus 3 feet high and 5 feet wide at the high tide mark.

"One good nor'easter comes along and it'll be gone," said James Seifert, a 30-year officer in the Riviera Beach Community Improvement Association. "And none of those houses on the lake were built to takethe tides."

"The last bad storm we had two years ago, I was on security patrol and saw the water was rushing over the banks (into the lake). It smashed out a 50-foot bulkhead and wiped out one lady's lawn stopping 1 foot away from her house. Next time it'll take the house," Seifert said.

The isthmus, like most of the beaches in the area, is community property and the improvement association has tried three times over the past couple years to build a sea wall, but they've been shot down each time by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, which regulates the non-tidal wetlands of the lake.

Riviera Beach's latest proposal to place chicken wire and rocks -- "Gabion baskets" -- along the bank was rejected last week.

"They want us to pay an engineer for a study to make sure we don't damage the marsh grasses on the sandbar, but we don't have the kind of money it takes to hire engineers. . . . If they don't let us do something soon, though, there won'tbe any wetlands left to protect," said O. "Gene" Hatfield, the president of the association.

Corps spokesman Tom Kiddoo insisted that the community would have to find a way to pay an engineer because without careful study, the solution could do more harm than good.

"Wehave no argument that something needs to be done, they just need an engineering report," Kiddoo said. "We want to make sure if they spendtheir money it doesn't go to waste."

But Hatfield, who only recently took the reins of the association, said he didn't think the 800-member community's $8,000 budget could pay for an engineering survey as well as the bulkheads, jetties or Gabion baskets that will be necessary to hold the river at bay.

Seifert said he is "plum disgusted"with the corps' intransigence.

"I've seen a lot of studies on this bay and none of them have stopped the erosion," Seifert said.

Even if Riviera Beach can find the money for a study, it would take time to complete and the corps requires a 30-day comment period before making any decision or allowing construction.

"In the meantime, we could have a bad storm and that's it. You just hope you don't get a nor'easter. You can never tell people about them but believe me they come," Seifert said.

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