Erosion at Haulover Beach Park in Miami-Dade County. Photo: Angel Valentin / The New York Times

By LIZETTE ALVAREZ
24 August 2013

FORT LAUDERDALE, Florida (The New York Times) – With inviting beaches that run for miles along South Florida’s shores, it is easy to put sand into the same category as turbo air-conditioning and a decent mojito — something ever present and easily taken for granted.

As it turns out, though, sand is not forever. Constant erosion from storms and tides and a rising sea level continue to swallow up chunks of beach along Florida’s Atlantic coastline. Communities have spent the last few decades replenishing their beaches with dredged-up sand.

But in South Florida — Miami-Dade, Broward and Palm Beach Counties — concerns over erosion and the quest for sand are particularly urgent for one reason: there is almost no sand left offshore to replenish the beaches.

In these communities, sand is far from disposable; it is a precious commodity. So precious, in fact, that it has set off skirmishes among counties and has unleashed an intense hunt for more offshore sand by federal, state and local officials who are already fretting over the next big storm. No idea is too far-fetched in this quest, not even a proposal to grind down recycled glass and transform it into beach sand. The once-shelved idea is now being reconsidered by Broward County.

The situation is so dire that two counties to the north — St. Lucie and Martin — are being asked to donate their own offshore sand in the spirit of neighborliness.

“You have counties starting wars with each other over sand,” said Kristin Jacobs, the Broward County mayor, who has embraced the recycled glass idea as a possible stopgap. “Everybody feels like these other counties are going to steal their sand.”

St. Lucie and Martin Counties are none too keen to sacrifice their sand for the pleasures of South Florida. The last time the idea was mentioned, in 2006, it engendered accusations of subterfuge and raised so much ire that it was dropped. If recent public meetings on the issue held by the Army Corps of Engineers are any measure, little has changed, despite a new study by the corps that says the two counties have enough offshore sand for at least 50 years.

“What happens in 50 years when all that sand is gone?” asked Frannie Hutchinson, a St. Lucie County commissioner. “Where are we supposed to go then? I told them to take their sand shovels and sand buckets and go home and come up with a better plan.”

In a state where the lure of pristine beaches is pivotal to a robust economy, hoarding sand is not unlike stocking the basement with toilet paper, water and peanut butter. One never knows when the next storm could sweep away a beach and wreak havoc on beach communities.

“When we got hit with back-to-back hurricanes, we had no beach in front of our infrastructures: A1A was wiped out,” Ms. Hutchinson said, referring to storms that engulfed a busy beachfront road.

The reason for all this agitation is straightforward: Miami-Dade County is officially out of offshore sand, which is environmentally sound and easily accessible. The last piles will be depleted in February, when sand replenishment is completed on the beach of the affluent village of Bal Harbour.

Broward County is not much better off; its offshore sand is nearly depleted. And Palm Beach County’s stocks are dwindling rapidly.

The reasons for the disappearing supply of sand are various. For one, these counties have been refurbishing their beaches for decades. The problem has also been worsened by sea-level rise and the number of jetties, or cuts to build seaports, that have proliferated, which causes sand to pile up on one side of the jetty but not the other. [more]

Where Sand Is Gold, the Reserves Are Running Dry

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