Venice, Fla., is a community of about 20,000 people located on the Gulf of Mexico, a few miles south of Sarasota. It is a vacation destination, with a quaint shopping district of small shops and boutiques and a broad, graceful main boulevard that leads to its beach. Among its major attractions is its more than 5 miles of beachfront.
But by the late 1980s, Venice had a problem. Its beach was washing away.
A big part of the problem, then-City Manager John MacLean recalled recently, was the design of a jetty at the north end of Venice Beach that was impeding the flow of sand.
MacLean had made the case that the federally built and federally owned jetty was causing the beach erosion. But the city still needed money to fix it. He had been working to secure money to renourish the beach with sand dredged from offshore when, in 1991, he hired a Washington, D.C., lobbyist named Howard Marlowe to see if he could help.
As it turned out, he could.
"Howard was very helpful in getting the funding in Washington," said MacLean, who is now city manager in Keene, N.H. "What he did was keep us on track in a timely fashion."
MacLean took another job and was succeeded as city manager by George Hunt, who said Marlowe obtained $20 million in the budget of the Army Corps of Engineers, "earmarked" for the Venice beach replenishment.
"He played a pivotal role," said Hunt, who is now human resources director in Palm Bay, Fla. "He was instrumental in shepherding the Army Corps of Engineers request through the budgetary process on Capitol Hill."
The Florida Department of Environmental Protection had mandated that the project be divided into two phases. The first took place in 1994, the second in 1996.
"That was also to Howard's credit," Hunt said. "He went back to Congress and got them to defer part of the appropriation, but to keep it earmarked until we were ready for it. The money could have easily gone to another project somewhere else."
According to the city of Venice Web site, "(t)he federally funded beach project added 250 feet seaward ... with the intention of having 150 feet left above water after the first several storms came through."
Venice also secured an agreement with the Army Corps of Engineers to replenish the beach again every 10 years for a 50-year period.
In 2005, the Corps embarked on a $12.1 million project that deposited one million cubic yards of sand along 3.3 miles of shoreline, adding 130 to 160 feet of width to the beach. The city and state jointly paid $2 million of the total.
Marlowe is still retained by the city of Venice.
"Basically, Mr. Marlowe enhances our ability to have a presence in Washington, D.C.," said Venice's public information officer, Pam Johnson. "Our congressional delegation has been active as well, but having Mr. Marlowe up there on a regular basis, meeting with people, helps us to keep a presence."
Venice pays Marlowe & Co. $3,600 to $3,700 per month on a contract that is up for annual renewal. The City Council has renewed it each year since Marlowe helped Venice win that first beach renourishment "earmark."
"We have an agreement with the Army Corps of Engineers to rebuild our beach every 10 years, but the funding has to be obtained each time," Johnson said.