MIAMI BEACH, Fla. (AP) — Some of South Florida's most popular beaches will be particularly vulnerable to erosion and major damage if the state experiences a series of hurricanes, as it did in 2004 and 2005, because officials have run out of an important material: sand.
Miami-Dade and Broward counties are the first in the state to deplete their offshore sources of sand that can be used for beach renourishment projects, said Tom Martin, a senior coastal engineer with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.
The corps has prioritized Miami-Dade's sand problem this week in a series of public meetings from Miami Beach to Fort Pierce, seeking input for the first phase of the process to identify a new source of sand.
"The general perception is the ocean is full of sand, but to get the sand in an environmentally responsible way, to get sand compatible with what's on the beaches, it's difficult at times," Martin said.
There's more than enough sand available off southeastern Florida for beach renourishment projects in five counties over the next 50 years, according to a new study by the corps and the Florida Department of Environmental Protection.
However, almost all of it is located in state or federal waters off St. Lucie, Martin and Palm Beach counties — not Broward or Miami-Dade.
Beach renourishment projects have continued along roughly 200 miles of southeastern Florida shoreline since the late 1970s, providing a buffer between coastal development and infrastructure and the eroding forces of ocean waves and storms. Sand for those projects typically comes from nearby sources for cost reasons.
Now that those nearby sand sources are depleted in Miami-Dade, the corps is considering alternatives such as inland sand mines, sand dredged from deeper offshore waters, from the Bahamas or other international sources, or the offshore sites identified farther north along Florida's Atlantic shore.
Miami-Dade's shoreline should hold up relatively well if there's a storm, thanks to beach renourishment projects over the last year using the last of the available sand dredged off the county, said Matthew Schrader, a coastal engineer with the corps.
Back-to-back storms or a series of stormy weather events, however, would put the county at a disadvantage until an alternative source of sand was secured, a process that could take a few years.
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