Officials took their annual spring beach walk Tuesday to check conditions on the peninsula's beaches. Currently, no federal money is earmarked to help replenish sand on the beaches although state funds are available.
Another mild winter, with little protective ice, caused significant erosion at Presque Isle State Park, where officials still don't know if they'll have any federal money to replenish sand on beaches this year.
"We're going to be seeing some bad stuff," park Operations Manager Matt Greene said Tuesday at the start of the 2017 spring beach walk.
Officials from the park, state Department of Conservation and Natural Resources, Presque Isle Advisory Committee, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and others walked the peninsula's beaches to check conditions and determine where sand will need to be added this year. While they expected to see erosion at sites like Beach 5, Beach 8 and the Mill Road Beaches, they said warmer winter temperatures and higher water levels had led to more than the usual damage. And they could have less than the usual funding to replenish the beaches.
"As of right now, there is no federal money," Greene said Tuesday.
For several years before 2016, the park received about $3 million annually for sand work, with half from federal funding and the other half from the state.
In 2016, the park didn't receive any federal money for sand. Only about half to two-thirds of the usual sand work could be done at Presque Isle using $1.5 million obtained from the state and $500,000 left from previous projects.
Greene said the state has set aside $1 million-plus for 2017 sand work at Presque Isle. He is hoping for word after April on the status of federal money for the project. He and Mike Asquith, a U.S. Army Corps of Engineers project manager, said the federal government is currently operating under a continuing resolution, which runs out later this month. Asquith said the possibility exists that the Corps of Engineers will have discretionary funding available for the peninsula sand project, although nothing is guaranteed.
The best-case scenario, Greene said, is that federal funding comes through to join the state money for the project. If that doesn't happen, some work could still be done with the state money.
Greene said he was encouraged by the fact that Corps of Engineers officials attended Tuesday's beach walk. So did representatives of some of the area's lawmakers, including Sam Breene, a senior legislative assistant to U.S. Rep. Mike Kelly, R-3rd Dist.
Breene said Kelly has been doing everything he can on the funding issue.
Kelly, along with U.S. Sens. Bob Casey, R-Pa., and Pat Toomey, R-Pa., and U.S. Rep. Glenn Thompson, R-5th Dist., have lent their support to the effort to obtain federal money for Presque Isle sand work.
The four federal lawmakers from the Erie region sent a Feb. 27 letter to the acting assistant secretary of the Army requesting that "sand replenishment for Presque Isle State Park is made a high-priority project in the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers' (USACE) fiscal year (FY) 2017 Work Plan and FY2018 budget."
In their letter, the members of Congress called Presque Isle an "essential economic and natural resource for northwestern Pennsylvania" that creates more than 1,000 jobs and draws about 4 million visitors who bring more than $60 million into the local economy.
"Needless to say, it is critical for the region that the beach remains a popular attraction and that the shoreline's integrity is fully maintained," the letter stated.
Thompson said via telephone Tuesday that he was optimistic but that the lawmakers had received no response yet from the Corps of Engineers to the letter.
Dana Massing can be reached at 870-1729 or by email. Follow her on Twitter at twitter.com/ETNmassing.