According to a story in Saturday’s Virginian Pilot, Virginia Beach is slated for more beach widening this summer. The total cost of the project is $22.6 million, with the federal government providing $14.7 million (65 percent) and the city of Virginia Beach paying the remaining $7.9 million.
The newspaper article says that this project is a “part of a long-term plan to protect the commonwealth’s shoreline from storms.” That sounds like a worthy idea, especially in this era of sea-level rise. But, let’s not kid ourselves. This project is not about protecting the shoreline or about resiliency, the buzzword of the day. After all, if one is going to protect the shoreline and make it more resilient to stronger storms, one would not try to do so by putting down a substance that will start washing away the day after it is put down. The owner of one of the ocean front hotels stated quite plainly the real purpose of the project: “…having a wide beach is important, not only for safety, but for what we’re selling to our guests.”
I do not have an objection to spending public funds to enhance a tourist attraction of the Commonwealth. After all, tourism is one of the state’s largest industries. The Virginia Tourism Corporation reported that, in 2017, tourism accounted for $25 billion in domestic visitor spending, supported 232,000 jobs, and brought in $1.7 billion in state and local tax revenue.
I do have an objection to who is providing the funding for the beach widening. Why should the American taxpayers be putting up $14.7 million to help pad the wallets of the owners of oceanfront hotels in Virginia Beach and the tax revenues of the city and Commonwealth? I realize that this amount is just a tiny drop in the ocean of federal spending, but considering that the federal government is on track for a trillion dollar deficit this year and there are substantial national infrastructure and disaster needs elsewhere, it does not seem right that federal funds are being spent to add sand to Virginia’s resort area, only to have that sand begin to wash away immediately. (This will be the third time since 2001 that the beach will have been widened or replenished.)
The direct beneficiaries of the beach widening should be the ones paying for it. That means the hotel owners in Virginia Beach, especially those on the oceanfront. It also means the owners of the oceanfront houses in Sandbridge. (The article reported that Sandbridge beach is also scheduled for widening, although that work will not be part of the “big beach” widening, but will be done under a separate contract.) The city should levy a tax on these entities for beach widening or replenishment and keep the revenues in a separate fund for that purpose. The hotel and rental house owners could choose the extent to which they passed this additional tax on to their guests. The Virginia Beach city council considered this approach in 2011, when it looked as if the federal government might be out of the business of beach widening, but quickly shot the idea down, according to the Virginian Pilot, and instead enlisted the state’s Congressional delegation to lobby for federal funding.
Because the state also benefits from the tourists attracted to Virginia Beach (sales tax revenues, income taxes from jobs related to tourism, etc.), it would be appropriate to use state appropriations or grant funds to pay a portion of the cost of beaching widening or sand replenishment.
Disclosure: I am not a totally disinterested observer. This will be the sixteenth year that we have rented a house at Sandbridge for a week and I foresee rentals in future years. The above proposal would probably ending up costing me, but I think that would be fair because I would be the direct beneficiary of any beach widening. However, having just returned from our annual week there with the grandkids, I really do not see any reason to widen that beach at this time. However, that is a different issue.There are currently no comments highlighted.