What Does the Sequester Mean for the Coast?

March 22, 2013
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By The American Shore & Beach Preservation Association

Have you had enough sequestration yet? Well, get used to it – many predict it’s the new normal in Washington, D.C., for the foreseeable future.

What does it mean for the coast? Good question… for which there may not yet be an answer.

We’ll spare you another explanation of what sequestration is, how it works or how we got to this point; if you haven’t heard it enough by now, there’s no reason to inflict it on you again.

But, as a coastal resident, official or professional, your next question ought to be: What’s it mean for me, my constituents and my coast? The short answer is simple: No one knows yet. All the officials and agencies charged with implementing these across-the-board budget cuts are still scrambling to figure out exactly what the new rules mean and how they will meet its lowered spending targets.

At this point, however, there are five areas where coastal interests should intersect with sequestration’s slices:


Corps of Engineers: Even as part of the military, Corps projects will face the same spending scrutiny as everyone else, which translates into something between a 5 percent to an 8+ percent cut in spending (depending on the source of funds). How that will be achieved, of course, is the question waiting to be answered.


Permitting and regulatory review: All the agencies that review project permits and interpret coastal regulations will face cuts, with the expectation they will be focused on furloughs – meaning fewer people to do the same work, meaning delays for your project.

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Disaster recovery and response: Because of the multifaceted nature of disaster response, it’s harder still to assess the impact here. Many disasters are funded either by flood insurance premiums (which took a hit in Katrina and a likely bigger hit in Sandy) or Congressional authorizations – which used to be approved routinely, until the Sandy relief bill faced an uphill fight to make it through Congress the last time. Not good news made potentially worse when you consider that the people who administer the disaster recovery programs face furloughs and cuts like every other government employee (except members of Congress, of course). We may not really know the impact until the second, third or fourth disaster strikes – and the first few may not even be coastal, with spring floods, tornadoes and forest fires on the horizon.


Research: Much coastal study relies on federal funding from an alphabet-soup of agencies. Due to the lead time necessary for the research grant process, the sequestration effect here will be delayed, although some current projects could see quick cuts if the funding terms allow it. A more immediate impact will be seen in the ability of government employees to attend scientific conferences to hear what others in their field are studying or have discerned from their diligence. Funding for such activities has already been curtailed by many agencies (thanks to recession-receded budgets), and the new cuts should finish this opportunity off for the foreseeable future.


The sequestration offset: Another intangible is what happens to state and local funding when federal funds are squeezed. Govern­ment budgets closer to home are no more flush than those in Washington, and federal cuts in crucial state and local programs may necessitate moving some money away temporarily from the coast to deal with more pressing needs. That could mean projects delayed, cost-shares cut and coastal employees facing furloughs just like their federal counterparts.

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It’s not a pretty picture, even with much of it still coming into focus. However, with no forward progress foreseen on the federal front to resolve this spending spat, sequestration may be here to stay. This is new territory for Wash­ington, and its scope makes any accurate assessment of impact difficult to forecast. Coastal managers and officials need to be prepared for the worst, and to keep talking to their federal friends to track what potential cuts over there could have on our coasts over here.


Founded in 1926, the American Shore & Beach Preservation Association (ASBPA) advocates for healthy coastlines by promoting the integration of science, policies and actions that maintain, protect and enhance the coasts of America. For more information on ASBPA, go to www.asbpa.org, Facebook or www.twitter.com/asbpa.


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