Rep. Julia Brownley: Budget dysfunction washes beach out to sea
It’s summertime in Ventura County — a time when families break out the sandals, swimsuits and sunscreen to enjoy Hueneme Beach.
But this year is no ordinary year. Hueneme Beach is mostly closed. The sand has been washed away. The pier is unsteady. Surfside Drive is endangered. And jagged rocks block a once pristine shoreline.
The closure of Hueneme Beach this summer will not just disappoint beachgoers. It will hurt local businesses that rely on tourist dollars and force the city of Port Hueneme to spend millions it doesn’t have on emergency shoreline protection measures.
The culprit: federal budget dysfunction.
The only thing more upsetting than seeing Hueneme Beach, our roads, our sidewalks and our homes in danger of being washed out to sea, is knowing that this crisis never had to happen.
So how did we get here?
In 1939, the Navy constructed the Port of Hueneme, creating what we know as Naval Base Ventura County. While the port and naval base have proved vital to the region’s economy and national defense, the jetties created by the construction stopped the natural shoreline flow of sand resulting in the erosion of Hueneme Beach, Point Mugu and other beaches down the coast.
To fix this problem, Congress authorized the creation of a new harbor at Channel Islands and a sand trap to collect sand which would subsequently be moved to the southern beaches, including Hueneme Beach.
The federal government splits the cost between the Department of the Navy and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, which conducts the dredging and the movement of sand.
However, in recent years a deeply dysfunctional Congress failed to provide sufficient funding to the Army Corps of Engineers to repair and maintain critical infrastructure. This lack of funding produced a massive backlog in maintenance needs at our nation’s ports and harbors — including Channel Islands Harbor.
Despite this shortsighted and irresponsible approach to federal budgeting, there is still a solution.
For decades, the federal government has collected funds from shippers intended for harbor maintenance. The Harbor Maintenance Trust Fund currently has an $8.9 billion balance. We should use this funding to address our immediate infrastructure needs.
That is why I have co-sponsored the RAMP Act, which would allow the Army Corps to use the trust fund to address the backlog of infrastructure needs.
I work every day on a bipartisan basis with my colleagues on the Congressional Ports Caucus to bring attention to this very issue. Recently I testified before the House Budget Committee about the immediate need in Ventura County for these funds and urged the House Appropriations Committee to fully use the Harbor Maintenance Trust Fund.
Unfortunately, House Republican leadership still refuses to access this $8.9 billion sitting unused in the trust fund.
This is because by using this money, an accounting rule would require the federal government to show its use as an expense — which is a no-go for their more intransigent ideological base.
This is not the way to govern. The current budget process of misguided, knee-jerk and arbitrary cuts that the Republican-controlled House of Representatives is making to vital community infrastructure projects is governance by reflex rather than reflection.
This is not what the vast majority of the American people want and because of it we’re seeing Hueneme Beach wash out to sea.
Despite all of this, I have not given up the fight, nor have our local leaders. Just as the waves continue to pound our shores, we will continue to work tirelessly in search of a solution to this crisis.
In addition to reaching out repeatedly to the Army Corps, the Navy and Federal Emergency Management Agency, I have also made sure that the White House, and my colleagues in the House and the Senate, are aware of every grain of sand that washes away from Hueneme Beach.
It is my hope that ideological intransigence, when confronted with a disappearing beach, an unsafe road, and threatened homes, will wash out to sea instead — right where it belongs.
Rep. Julia Brownley of Thousand Oaks represents the 26th Congressional District, which includes most of Ventura County.