Harold Marlowe has built a business over the past 25 years in a narrow but locally important niche: He's the go-to guy for beach replenishment.
Public officials familiar with his work have nicknamed the Washington, D.C., lobbyist "the Sand King." New Jersey shore towns have spent more than $850,000 since 2002 with Marlowe and Co., according to lobbying disclosure forms.
In that same period, the company says the New Jersey towns it represented received nearly $73 million in federal money to do everything from planning and studying replenishment to building seawalls, replacing sand washed away in storms and rebuilding coastal ecosystems in Middle Township.
For shore towns, lobbying for federal dollars represents a small investment that can yield big returns.
Marlowe is not the only game in town. Records show that Long Beach Township has spent $320,000 with the Washington, D.C., office of New Jersey lobbying firm Winning Strategies since 2006. But beyond that firm, records show that for at least a decade no New Jersey shore town has gone with anyone but Marlowe.
In Avalon, Mayor Martin Pagliughi directly credited Marlowe's aid in getting the borough's beaches getting special designation, which he said led to it subsequently benefiting from more than $51 million in federal money over the past decade.
In recent years, this has included the 2,155-person borough receiving more than $9 million in 2004, more than $12 million in 2005, more than $8 million in 2007 and nearly $5 million in 2008 to build seawalls, as well as other money for beach replenishment that included the Army Corps of Engineers trucking in sand last year.
"It became more and more critical because it's a battle," Pagliughi said. "It is always a constant battle for beach protection."
In Cape May Point, Business Administrator Constance Mahon echoed Pagliughi.
The borough spent $74,400 on the firm between 2003 and 2006, according to lobbying records, benefiting in 2005 from more than $5 million in federal dollars for beach fill in the borough's shoreline protection project, according to the company.
"We got what we wanted pretty much," Mahon said. "We used their services to get this under way and we were successful. It was wonderful and they were very helpful."
Tony Pratt works closely with Marlowe as the first vice president and chairman of American Shore and Beach Preservation Association's intergovernmental committee.
The 83-year-old association relies on Marlowe.
"Howard is one who, from our vantage point, is always able to get meetings with people we want to talk to," Pratt said. He is "the conduit to the people in the right offices to talk about the issues with the American beaches."
Marlowe founded the company in 1984 after time spent working for federal lawmakers, working as an economist and chairing a trade commission. Studying at the University of Pennsylvania, he said he became familiar with the state's beaches as an undergraduate through friend's Harvey Cedars beach home on Long Beach Island.
The company helped Venice, Fla., a town about 60 miles south of St. Petersburg on the Gulf of Mexico, land a beach replenishment grant in 1988, and word spread.
The company, which reported more than $2 million in lobbying income last year, now employs 13 people and represents 68 clients, even as the company represents a growing number of towns on non-beach issues. Still, most clients remain towns on or near the coast in Texas, South Carolina, California and Florida.
Beach replenishment is largely driven by towns asking congressmen to get funding through the federal budget, which typically covers 65 percent of a replenishment project.
Now is particularly critical time, with the House of Representatives Appropriations Committee expected later this week to decide which projects it will fund.
Locally, U.S. Reps. Frank LoBiondo, R-2nd, and John Adler, D-3rd, sought more than $94 million for Atlantic Ocean beach replenishment studies and construction, according to their Web sites.
This was subsequently winnowed to about $10.1 million by the House Appropriations Committee this week. It is set to go to the full House of Representatives for consideration next week.
Marlowe said he works with towns to get members of congress to make the local projects a priority. This includes letters and personal visits by local officials to Washington D.C.
"To a certain degree merit doesn't have always something to do with this" Marlowe said. "Sometimes it is who squeaks the loudest is who gets the oil."
He also stays in close contact with the Army Corps of Engineers, overseen by Congress, that studies and prepares for the replenishment projects. Marlowe said his is the only firm with the detailed knowledge of the corps needed to see these projects through to completion.
"We're in the trenches with it a lot," Marlowe said. "We have resolved a lot of problems by working with the corps."
Beach replenishment has been a frequent target for others farther from the coast that question the value of endlessly replacing the sand that will inevitably wash away from the resorts.
In May, U.S. Sen. Tom Coburn, R-Okla., released a report called "Washed Out to Sea," detailing how billions of federal dollars have been wasted on beaches while critical infrastructure needs have gone unmet.
But closer to the sea, that view is not shared by people like Pagliughi, who reflexively defended the millions in funding for resort beaches without being questioned.
The beaches are a major part of the state's $39 billion tourist economy, he said.
"You go out on the causeway at 7 a.m.," Pagliughi said, "and you'll see a parade of vans - landscapers, everybody in the county relies on the tourism community, and what brings them here is the beach."
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