The physical solutions can help protect homes and roads but also cut off access to the beaches or water. New Jersey is known for having a lot of protective barriers.
The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers says it's also moved more than 65 million cubic yards of sand for replenishment projects in New Jersey. The state government has done additional projects without federal assistance.
Environmentalists say moving sand can cause harm to the areas it's moved from and might not be a good match for its new location. The supply of usable sand also is limited, they say.
"It's like a bad drug habit," said Chad Nelsen, the environmental director of the Surfrider Foundation, a national organization dedicated to preserving beaches and oceans. "Once you start, you can't stop."
Still, it seems to work. Some residents on Long Beach Island on Wednesday credited high dunes and wide beaches built as part of replenishment efforts there for keeping destruction from being even worse.
The northern barrier island that suffered the worst damage from Sandy is the longest developed stretch of New Jersey's 127-mile coastline without the help of federal replenishment projects.
The federal government pays for much of the beach protection programs. Including state and local contributions, shore protection programs with federal involvement from Manasquan to Cape May have cost taxpayers $475 million since 1988. The state has a $25 million-per-year beach protection fund, much of which goes toward the federal projects, but some goes to other measures.
Peter Kasabach, executive director of the planning advocacy group New Jersey Future, says subsidies that encourage rebuilding as things were, including federal flood insurance, are problematic.
"We've built in places that we shouldn't have built and now those places are becoming even more hazardous and more expensive to stay in," he said. "As we grow and develop, we should make sure we don't continue to invest in those places."
He suggested bans on building in some sensitive beach areas, or requirements that homes be built farther from the ocean.
The Surfrider Foundation's Nelsen said he hopes that New Jersey communities at least consider rebuilding in different places, which he said has never been done on a large scale in a U.S. oceanfront.
"We're about to spend some ungodly sum of money to restore the coast," he said. "Let's make sure we spent it wisely."
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Mulvihill reported from Trenton, N.J. Associated Press writer Wayne Parry in Mantoloking contributed to this report.