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Special Interests: Judy Sarasohn

Lobbying Up a Storm for Beaches

By Judy Sarasohn
Thursday, September 23, 2004; Page A27

At least two coastal communities, with more likely to join in, are taking a two-pronged approach -- lobbying and threatened litigation -- to encourage the Army Corps of Engineers to reverse its policy to stop seeking funds for "renourishment" of eroded beaches.

The 1996 Shore Protection Act, they say, restates a long-standing federal commitment to share the cost of shore-protection projects and requires the Corps to seek funds to rebuild and maintain beaches, for environmental and economic reasons. Also, the engineered beach projects help mitigate further storm damage to areas beyond the beaches, they add, hoping that the recent experiences of hurricanes Frances and Ivan will increase sympathy for their cause.

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The communities of Avalon, N.J., and Carolina Beach, N.C., recently sent a notice of their intent to sue in 30 days if the Corps does not reverse its policy.

"The litigation bolsters our many friends in Congress who would seek to reverse the policy," said Howard Marlowe of the Marlowe & Co. lobby shop.

"The next Frances or Ivan . . . could wreak havoc," said Lawrence R. Liebesman, a lawyer at Holland & Knight. Liebesman and colleague Rafe Petersen are handling the litigation side of the campaign, while Marlowe is managing the lobbying.

Liebesman said Assistant Army Secretary John Paul Woodley Jr., the civilian head of the Corps, sent letters to 40 coastal communities in February announcing that President Bush's 2005 budget for the Corps civil works program would not include funds for periodic renourishment projects.

At a February briefing to explain the budget, Woodley said: "Our view is that nonfederal interests should carry out renourishment activities . . . just as they operate and maintain other types of projects. . . . The change in policy is driven by the need to have a frugal budget that is reflective of the priorities of a nation at war, and that difficult choices have to be made."

Of course, even if the Corps seeks the funds, it does not mean Congress will appropriate them.

Food Fight Over Dueling Events

Safe Tables Our Priority (STOP), an advocacy group representing victims of foodborne illness and other interested folks, is feeling big-footed by the Agriculture Department.

STOP has been planning for at least a couple of weeks a news conference for 10 a.m. today on its plans to call on President Bush and Democratic challenger John F. Kerry to comment on proposals to protect the nation's food supply, such as creating one federal agency responsible for protecting the food supply, establishing mandatory federal recall powers for tainted food and providing for stricter enforcement of USDA's meat-safety program.

STOP also plans to release a letter it sent to Elsa A. Murano, USDA's undersecretary for food safety, complaining about what it sees as the Food Safety and Inspection Service's less-than-committed interest in hearing from consumer representatives.

Unfortunately, a news advisory came to the attention of STOP yesterday about an event that USDA and other agencies are holding at the same time. USDA, the Food and Drug Administration, and the Department of Homeland Security will be signing an agreement with the National Association of State Departments of Agriculture "to develop an integrated federal-state response plan for food and agricultural emergencies."

"We'd love to think it was a coincidence . . .Every time we try to give them the benefit of the doubt we lose out," said Karen Taylor Mitchell, executive director of STOP.

Steven Cohen, a spokesman for the Food Safety and Inspection Service, said the government was not trying to steal STOP's thunder.

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