Another Nomination For The Worst Possible Public Policy

Back on September 16 I made a nomination for the worst possible public policy, namely "affordable housing" in Manhattan.  I described it as "the most expensive possible way to help the smallest number of people."  Actually that's a charitable description.  Large numbers of the beneficiaries of "affordable housing" in Manhattan don't have any credible claim to being poor, and many of the affordable housing programs explicitly use scarce government funds to benefit the middle and even upper middle classes to the tune of $40,000 and up per family per year.  Is it really possible for any public policy to be worse than that?

Well, I have another nomination: beach restoration on the Long Island oceanfront.  This time we are not talking about just benefiting the middle and upper middle classes with government handouts; no, this is the very richest of the rich.

My interest got piqued when I read in the Real Estate section of today's NYT that Billy Joel's oceanfront estate on the beach in Sagaponack has recently gone back on the market with a new asking price of $23.5 million, up from a recent asking price of $16.75 million.  Here is a picture of the estate from the Times article:

Among reasons given for the price increase were the following:

Also factoring into the higher price is a $26 million beach-nourishment project underway in Sagaponack, Water Mill and the Town of Southampton to help buffer homes from future storms.

It can't possibly be that the government is making that kind of giveaway to a handful of the super rich like Billy Joel, can it?  Well, thankfully, it's not quite that bad.  But almost.

Long Islanders have been working for decades to get the Feds to put up big money to maintain their beaches, but thankfully the Feds have pushed back at least a little.  Notably, the Clinton administration, to its credit, would have none of it.  But Hurricane Sandy in 2012 gave the Long Islanders their opening.  After Hurricane Sandy, at the end of 2012, Congress appropriated some $3.5 billion for construction projects to restore areas impacted by Sandy.  Most of that money remains unallocated.  But according to this from the East Hampton Patch in June 2013, OMB has approved release of $700 million out of the $3.5 billion, and one of the first beneficiaries has been Montauk, the farthest-east hamlet on Long Island.

The specifics have not yet determined, but detailed planning and design of the Montauk beach re-nourishment project can begin with 100 percent federal expense, [Congressman Tim] Bishop's office said in a statement.

Montauk is not as super-rich as Sagaponack, but still, this is pretty over the top.  And how about that project over at Sagaponack?  It turns out that the $26 million beach restoration currently going on is actually funded, at least for the moment, by the super-rich homeowners themselves.  According to Sag Harbor Online on February 6:

Oceanfront property owners in Sagaponack, Bridgehampton and Water Mill approved a referendum on Saturday night that will allow homeowners and the Town of Southampton to spend $24 million to replenish eroded beachfront. A beachfront only made worse by Hurricane Sandy’s impact this October.

But will that stick, with billions of federal funds sitting out there for the asking?  Don't count on it.  From the same article in Sag Harbor Online: 

Whether or not this [Sagaponack] project will benefit from Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) funding for those impacted by Hurricane Sandy remains unclear. Beaches in both Bridgehampton and Sagaponack, having already contended with significant beach erosion, were hammered by the fall storm, whole stretches of beach literally washed away.  “We are pursuing that and the town is pursuing that very aggressively,” said Terchunian.

I think it is virtually certain that the Feds will put up the money as soon as everyone's back is turned.

Meanwhile, Billy Joel is taking no chances, making himself a fixture on the Democratic Party fundraising circuit.  He played at Andrew Cuomo's birthday fundraiser on December 4.   On the federal front, here is Joel palling around with Senator Schumer on September 16, 2013.  

Whether or not the Feds ultimately put up the money for the restoration of beach on the super-rich stretch of Sagaponack, the whole idea of multi hundreds of millions of federal money for Long Island beach restoration is very, very hard to top as bad public policy.

UPDATE, January 8, 2013:  Not wasting any time in fulfilling my prediction above, Gov. Cuomo issued a big press release yesterday, January 7, setting forth his program to "strengthen New York's communities against extreme weather."  The "strategy" is a list of all kinds of projects, with an overall price tag of $17 billion stated on the first line of the release.  Who's paying for it?  Well, it's some indication that VP Biden was there at the announcement along with Cuomo, although the numbers in the release don't have any breakdown between state, federal and (maybe?) local share.  There's also no time line for when all this will happen.  If you scroll down a ways, you will find this as one of the projects:

Coastal Protection - $1,794,461,757

The US Army Corps of Engineers, in concert with NYS Department of Environmental Protection, and the NYS Department of Parks and Historic Preservation, is embarking on a long-term program to protect 83 miles of exposed coastline.

That 83 miles of "exposed coastline" would look to correspond more or less to the large majority of the south shore of Long Island.  In fact, you can't really get to 83 miles without including most or all of the super-rich areas like Westhampton, Bridgehampton, Southampton, Sagaponack, East Hampton, and Amagansett (that stretch is over 40 miles), as well as the not exactly poor Fire Island (another 32 miles).  So, too bad taxpayers, you are going to pay at a minimum hundreds of millions to "protect" the ocean-front homes of the richest of the rich.