08/24/2011 07:25 pm ET | Updated Oct 24, 2011

Chris Christie Touts Funding Support For The Jersey Shore During Tour Of State Beaches

When it comes time for a press conference, New Jersey politicians can't get enough of the beach.

Sen. Frank Lautenberg went to the Belmar boardwalk. Sen. Robert Menendez hit Monmouth Beach. Both were joined by Rep. Frank Pallone.

All those men are Democrats. But the shore's political tide comes in without respect to party. This month one of the Tea Party's favorites, Gov. Chris Christie, also made his pilgrimage to the water.

In a week-long series of trips from Belmar to Ocean City, Christie touted all he has done for the beach economy. One item on his win list: beach replenishment.

In a release accompanying the trips, Christie's office noted that he had "restored [state] beach replenishment funding to its full level."

The controversial practice sucks sand out of the sea, or carts it from other locations, and dumps it on the shore. In places like New Jersey, the natural pattern of the wind and waves would, without the artificial efforts of engineers, whittle away at beaches and threaten the houses that sit along them.

Tim Dillingham, executive director of the American Littoral Society based in Highlands, N.J., decried the cycle that beach replenishment, which often must be repeated every few years, creates along the coast. Such projects encourage private investment where there should be none, Dillingham said.

"In fact, in New Jersey, significant expansion of coastal 'McMansions' follows beach fill projects regularly," Dillingham argued. "The public pays to create a beach, and property owners and local politicians rush in to build huge waterfront houses where small beach bungalows once stood."

The federal government underwrites it all. Across the country this year, the Army Corps of Engineers, which oversees beach replenishment projects, will spend $148 million taking sand out of the sea and pumping it onto the shore. Forty million dollars will go to South Jersey alone. The remaining cost of the projects will be supported by states and cities.

Regardless of the environmental side-effects, fully funding beachfill projects was something of a no-brainer for Christie, even as he slashed social services, Rutgers Professor David Redlawsk said.

Christie has lately taken fire for allowing cities and towns to use state sand replacement money without providing for public access to beaches, but Redlawsk said Christie still stood to gain from his overall pro-replenishment stance.

"It just fits the old saying all politics is local," Redlawsk said. "For the governor nothing could be more local than the Jersey Shore. It's thought by many New Jerseyans to basically be the jewel of state. People here just love the shore."

For fiscal conservatives in Congress, the cost of beach replenishment is minuscule when compared to the federal budget, but is symbolic in its Sisyphean struggle against nature and of federal wastefulness on the whole.

Republican Sen. Tom Coburn, who hails from the very landlocked state of Oklahoma, has tried to kill federal funds that shore up beaches time and time again, most recently in a deficit reduction plan he offered last month. He would like the entire burden of beach nourishment, which over the next 10 years would cost the federal government $700 million, shifted to cities and states.

"Why would taxpayers in Tennessee need to subsidize tourism in New Jersey, why not have New Jersey pay for that if it's a priority in New Jersey?" Coburn spokesman John Hart said.

Every year, however, Coburn has been defeated by lobbyists and New Jersey politicians from both parties eager to hold on to what Coburn calls "beach pork."

If possible, Coburn will try to refer his beach replenishment cuts to the congressional super committee, which will be deciding which discretionary programs to hit.

Beach replenishment, one of many local priorities that could come under the microscope as that committee meets, is an example of how some reductions the super committee may consider will generate opposition across party lines.

Hart, who pointed out that other states like Florida also take advantage of the beach money, said the senator was trying to "attack the culture of parochialism in Congress, that says each of these pet projects, pet initiatives deserve special protection."

For at least a little while this year, Florida Gov. Rick Scott agreed. The state budget he unveiled in February proposed eliminating state funding for beach reparation, which would have had the additional effect of spiking federal matching funds for beaches.

By June, however, Scott had backed down. He signed into law $16 million in state funds for the program.

In New Jersey, the argument against beach replenishment -- that it quite literally throws federal dollars into the sea while subsidizing wealthy landowners' risky investments -- has yet to gain much traction at all among politicians, even for a favorite of conservatives across the country like Christie, or a fiscally conservative congressman like freshman New Jersey Rep. Jon Runyan.

A Christie spokesman, Kevin Roberts, said the governor's office would not be "speculating on or prejudging the work being done on deficit reduction, or any potential impact it may have on the states," and declined to comment on Coburn's proposal.

But he added that "beach replenishment is and has been a priority of Governor Christie’s to keep our beaches healthy, mitigate erosion and protect the critical role they play in the state’s shore economy."

Christie and other local politicians note the tremendous amount of business generated along the Jersey Shore: 193,000 jobs and $6 billion in wages, according to the governor.

New Jersey politicians will fight to keep those jobs, and the federal dollars that support them.

Lobbyist Howard Marlowe, who has earned himself the nickname "The Sand King" for his tireless efforts on behalf of shoring up New Jersey beaches, said any effort to kill replenishment money in the deficit super committee would get shot down.

"Dr. Coburn has tried to cut this funding before and has been beaten badly each time," Marlowe said. "If he tries this, he will be beaten again."