WASHINGTON -- The federal government will pay $8.8 million of the estimated $12.2 million needed to reconstruct the storm-ravaged Ocean City beach, leaving state and local governments responsible for the rest, officials said yesterday.
The $3.4 million local share of the project to rebuild dunes and beach will come from an existing $8 million state and local beach repair fund, and will not require cash-strapped local governments to scramble for the money.
Officials of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers in Baltimore said they expect to hire a contractor by the end of March to pump sand from offshore to restore 8.5 miles of beach and dune damaged by a Jan. 4 storm.
John Van Fossen, the Corps' Ocean City project manager, expects the sand to be replaced by July 4.
A $45 million beach-replenishment program, financed with federal, state and local money, was all but complete when the northeaster slammed into the coast last month.
Mr. Van Fossen, along with the Maryland congressional delegation, expected the federal government to bear the entire $12.2 million cost of repairing the damage to the project, pointing to a 1984 federal law that allows the corps to return such rehabilitation projects to their "prestorm condition" at federal taxpayers' expense.
But in a letter this week to Rep. Wayne T. Gilchrest, R-Md.-1st, Assistant Secretary of the Army Nancy P. Dorn said the law was limited to spending "the amounts necessary to reduce threats to life and property."
The corps said it would bear the entire $2.9 million cost of dune repairs that would provide emergency shoreline protection for the rest of the storm season. The remaining $9.3 million in project costs -- including beach replenishment, grass plantings and signs -- will be split by the federal and local governments on a 65 percent-35 percent basis.
"We're happy that they're going ahead quickly with the dune restoration," said an aide to Sen. Paul S. Sarbanes, D-Md.
Department of Natural Resources spokesman Robert Gould said the state has an existing $8 million maintenance fund drawn from the state, Worcester County and Ocean City that will be used for the local share of the repairs. "We would not need any new appropriations -- that's the bottom line," he said.
Environmentalists, geologists and some congressmen criticize such beach replenishment programs, saying they don't live up to expectations and are a waste of taxpayers' money. But state and local officials say the money spent is worthwhile in protecting a resort that provides jobs and tax dollars.