Beach Erosion: Search for sand, solutions

Diminished Offshore Sources Is a Concern

Miami Beach is running out of sand.

Over the years, storms and development have combined forces to steal away sand from the miles of beach that stretch along the coastline between the hotels and condos of Miami Beach and the Atlantic Ocean.

Every year, county engineers push back, pumping sand from offshore onto the beach. This year, they’re planning to transport sand to Miami-Dade County beaches from as near  as Key Biscayne and the Bahamas and as far away as Northern California.

“We are running out of it,” said Bryan Flynn, a special projects administrator from the Miami-Dade Department of Environmental Resource Management, the agency in charge of beach re-nourishment.   “That’s why we’re looking for alternatives.’’

One alternative is to build concrete barriers, or so-called breakwaters, offshore, but that approach has also drawn criticism.

But, make no mistake, said Flynn, the beach will be maintained “almost at any cost.”

It’s an important part of the appeal of Miami Beach.  Every year, more than 20 million people visit Miami Beach, creating more than $4.4 billion for the economy, said Suzi Ponder of the Greater Miami Convention & Visitors Bureau. Many of them hit the beach. Some just gaze at it.

“It is our No. 1 tourist attraction,” says Ponder, director of media relations for Europe and Asia at the convention bureau.

Miami Beach recently won for best-restored beach in the United States from the American Shore and Beach Preservation Association.

Three decades of dredging for sand has led to a depletion of offshore sources. Three sensitive coral reefs that run parallel to the coastline put restrictions on the dredging. On top of it all, state environmental law says the new sand has to match “color and texture” of the sand there now.

The ambition of Miami-Dade County, the governmental body that encompasses Miami Beach and nearly 30 other towns and cities, is to ensure that there is 13.5 miles of beach at least 200 feet wide. To maintain that expanse for 25 years, the county needs at least 12 million cubic yards of sand, or more than 600,000 truckloads of sand.  This year, the federal government is putting up $35 million to nourish the project, $15 million less than last year.  Flynn said the county annually spends an average of $2.5 million of its own money on beach replenishment.

Since getting sand is so hard, Flynn and his crew are considering all kinds of other options. Along the shoreline are certain locations referred to as hotspots that erode more than the rest of the beach.  In those areas, Miami-Dade County plans to stop the erosion by building concrete barriers offshore. One of those areas is along the beach at 63rd Street on Miami Beach, a spot popular with bathers and surfers.

That’s one of Mike Gibaldi’s favorite spots on the beach. Gibaldi leads the Surfriders Foundation of Miami, an environmental organization that works to preserve and promote recreation on the beach. Usually, he says, he supports projects initiated by the county. This time it’s different.

The Surfriders say the concrete barrier poses risks to swimmers and is too costly. Furthermore, the Surfriders says it is not clear how effective the barrier would be.

Flynn, the county official, says that similar barriers have been installed with success in other places, such as along the south coast of the Dominican Republic.
Gibaldi said Miami Beach “is a high-energy-level area. Projects like this have not been tested under conditions like those in Miami. There is a hell lot of a difference. It is an experiment.”

High-energy areas are subject to extreme tidal flows, streams and wind conditions, he said. He wants an independent study to review the project. Alternatively, he suggested “nourishment when needed,” in essence replacing the sand less frequently.

“The beach is not a place for raw concrete,” Gibaldi said.

Maybe so. But the Florida Department of Environmental Protection has already approved the project.

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