LONG BEACH TOWNSHIP — Long Beach Island municipalities have spent more than $560,000 in taxpayer funds on a Washington, D.C.-based lobbying firm in an effort to help them secure federal funding for beach replenishment.
Since hiring Winning Strategies in 2004, the island has received more than $150 million from the federal government for the Surf City, Harvey Cedars and Brant Beach portions of the islandwide project. The project calls for the construction of a 125-foot-wide berm and 22-foot-high dunes along the barrier island.
“This is the best money that we have spent,” Long Beach Township Mayor Joseph Mancini said of the agreement with the lobbying firm. “They are familiar with the way Washington works. Without them, I don’t think that we would have been able to get any of the money for any of the projects.”
Barnegat Light is the only municipality on LBI not to participate in the beach-replenishment project or use the firm. Borough officials said their beaches are sound enough to protect them from storms.
Winning Strategies works on behalf of the municipalities to secure construction funding for beach replenishment, officials said. The group serves as regular liaison in Washington to the area's members of Congress and provides direct outreach to the relevant committees, federal agencies and departments, officials said.
For most of the past decade, Long Beach Township, Harvey Cedars, Beach Haven, Surf City and Ship Bottom split the costs of the firm. In 2014, Harvey Cedars, Beach Haven, Surf City and Ship Bottom left the group after receiving assurances about their portions of the beach project.
Long Beach Township is the only municipality to still use the firm. It pays the firm $36,000 a year, according to records.
Harvey Cedars paid $6,600 a year to be part of the group, said Mayor Jonathan Oldham. The borough received the first portion of beachfill in 2010, with the second portion completed in 2013. During its time as part of the agreement, the borough received $20 million in federal funding for beach protection.
“We definitely got a good return on our investment during our time with them,” Oldham said. “During the time we were part of the agreement, they did a great job, they helped a lot with securing the money. But after the project was completed, we decided to stay on for a couple of more years, and then we decided to move on and put the money elsewhere.”
Over the past couple of years, U.S. Rep. Frank LoBiondo, R-2nd, has been involved in meetings with the firm and Long Beach Island leaders, said his spokesman, Jason Galanes. LoBiondo started representing Long Beach Island following the 2010 census.
“Since that time, he (LoBiondo) and his staff have met annually with the mayors of the LBI communities — accompanied by their representatives from Winning Strategies — to discuss the beach replenishment needs of the coastal communities,” Galanes said.
Mancini said the firm helps him navigate the sometimes difficult Capitol landscape. The idea of hiring the firm was recommended by former U.S. Rep. Jim Saxton, R-3rd.
“They are the key to everything that we do,” Mancini said. “When I go to Washington, they are able to set up meetings with people that I would not be able to. They open the doors for us that we then walk through.”