OCEAN CITY, N.J. - When this resort 63 years ago completed the Jersey Shore's first engineered beach-replenishment project, pumping 2.54 million cubic yards of sand onto a two-mile stretch of beachfront at a cost of around $4 million, officials thought it would solve the town's erosion problems for good.
But by 1958, it appeared Ocean City - and ultimately its neighbors up and down the coast - would need more beach replenishment. And would have to keep doing it in the ensuing decades.
So began the costly cycle of dredging sand from inlets and offshore sites and pumping it back onto the beaches to replenish what storms and natural coastal erosion removes. And that voracious need to fatten the strands still walks hand in hand with a constant struggle to find federal, state, and local funding to pay for it. Two bills pending in the state Legislature would double - to $50 million - the state's annual contribution to the Shore Protection Fund.
"They didn't know that first project was a harbinger of things to come," said Stewart Farrell, director and founder of Stockton University's Coastal Research Center, who is among proponents of the plan to double the funding.
"And at the time they first did it, there were no 'pleases' and 'may I's' for the officials back then. They just went ahead and did what they thought needed to be done," Farrell said.
By the 1980s, such projects were being administered by the state Department of Environmental Protection and the Army Corps of Engineers, and paying for them had eased into a 65/35 funding share, with the federal government picking up the larger portion of the tab and the state and local municipalities usually splitting the rest.
In 1992, the state Legislature agreed to set aside $25 million a year to help defray the replenishment costs - an amount proponents of beach building say is now grossly inadequate because the costs for such projects has increased, as has the need to repair damage wrought by Hurricane Sandy, other storms, and rising sea levels.
And Congress is decreasing its investment to a 50/50 share of the costs for any post-Hurricane Sandy projects.
So two legislative bills - 4215 in the state Assembly and 2775 in the state Senate - are being considered. They would double the Shore Protection Fund contribution to $50 million a year. The money comes from realty transfer fees.
The fees are based on property purchase prices; the basic rate is $1.75 for each $500 of sale price, of which 50 cents goes to the county where the deed is recorded. The remainder goes into state coffers.
Currently, the first $25 million collected goes into the Shore fund; the rest, which varies from year to year, goes into other state accounts.
Though there has long been a debate over whether to replenish or retreat from the beaches, experts say the numbers aren't negotiable: With $68 billion in annual revenue, tourism is lucrative in New Jersey, the state's second-largest industry.
More than half of that revenue comes from the Shore, state officials said.
"These projects are as much about protecting people and property as they are about the well-being of the entire economy of the state," said Margot Walsh, director of the Jersey Shore Partnership, a Red Bank nonprofit that advocates beach-replenishment initiatives.
The group has mounted an effort to gather more than 1,000 signatures on a petition to present to legislators and to the Christie administration urging approval of the Shore protection funding increase. Four days after circulating the petition among local chambers of commerce, business groups, and others in Atlantic, Cape May, Monmouth, and Ocean Counties it had collected nearly a third of its goal, Walsh said Friday.
"I think that a lot of people understand that these projects are really good investment for the state," Walsh said.
Opponents of such measures are often environmentalists who want a complete retreat from the coast or owners of beachfront property that extends over the mean high-tide line.
Often, waterfront homeowners will grant state and federal officials access to their properties in the form of easements so projects can be completed.
But when they won't immediately grant easements - as in the case of a project being held up by the City of Margate in Atlantic County, which doesn't want the state to build a 22-foot-high beachfront dune that residents have complained would obstruct their ocean view - the DEP must sue to obtain access.
Stewart said New Jersey, with its 127-mile coastline, has spent about $800 million on beach replenishment over the last 30 years - more than any other state, including Florida, which has an 1,800-mile coastline. That is equivalent to 80 million cubic yards of sand - or about a dump truck load for every foot of beach.
"It's a remarkable amount of sand over a long period of time," said Stewart, whose office is working on engineering plans that would use trucks instead of costly pumping operations to move sand from beaches where it has collected to strands where it is needed.
"As costs increase and funding continues to be strained, we need to look for ways to modify permits to make projects more cost effective," Stewart said.