Only a few weeks after the big storm, and the push is already on to get the Federal taxpayers to back a big beach repair project on Fire Island. I'm sure this is no different from the other barrier islands, but I follow Fire Island more closely because we used to own a house out there.
Yesterday's New York Times has the story, along with the pleas/presumption that of course the Federal government is going to have to pay for this with the infinite credit card. Here is Suzy Goldhirsch, President of the Fire Island Association:
“We’re the first line of defense for Long Island, and the dunes are our first line of defense,” said Suzy Goldhirsch, president of the Fire Island Association, an umbrella group of community associations. “We’re self-reliant. We’re island people. But we need support.
“We won’t ask for more than anyone else, but we don’t want to be forgotten.”
(Suzy Goldhirsch was a neighbor and an acquaintance during our Fire Island days.)
And then of course the ever-present Senator Schumer:
On Monday, Senator Charles E. Schumer of New York called for the quick repair of the breach, saying it put the mainland at greater risk of flooding.
You don't even really have to mention Federal funding explicitly; it's just assumed. "We don't want to be forgotten" is code for "We think we are entitled to a multi-million dollar Federal handout."
Exactly how big of a handout? Well, it's not too hard to figure out. Turns out that there was just a big beach restoration program in Fire Island in 2009! The cost of that one, according to Wikipedia, was "between $23 and $25 million ($6,020 per housing unit)." The home owners established taxing districts to pay for some of it, but according to this from the Army Corps of Engineers, the Federal government picked up an astonishing 75% of the cost. With about 4000 homes on the island, that was a Federal handout of over $4000 per home. And these are not poor people. When we had the house there, residents included the likes of Mel Brooks and Calvin Klein.
Well, too bad, it's only three years later and the sand has been washed away by the next storm. Time for another $4000 handout per homeowner! Actually, I suspect that this new one will cost quite a lot more.than $4000 per house.
Ms. Goldhirsch is ready for the critics with this line, "We are the first line of defense for Long Island." With all due respect, I don't buy it. The storms do not eliminate the barrier island; they just move it around, knock some of the houses down and leave others in the water. The amount of protection to the mainland is not really changed by any storm. The benefit of a beach restoration goes almost entirely to the homeowners on the barrier island, and even within that group disproportionately to the ocean-front homeowners, who are of course the wealthiest of the bunch. Sorry, but if they want a beach restoration, they should pay for it themselves.
And while we're at it, how about actuarially sound flood insurance premiums?