Miami is out of sand.
Last year, Miami-Dade County depleted its offshore sand reserves, meaning miles of beaches that shrink from erosion must be replenished with sand from outside South Florida.
Rebuilding Miami’s beaches after Hurricane Irma will cost millions of dollars, and sand will have to be brought in by hundreds of trucks from a sand mine near Lake Okeechobee due to a longstanding federal law that prohibits local governments from importing foreign sand.
County officials say that sand from the Bahamas can be easily transported to Miami by barge, and importing foreign sand could save taxpayers millions. A bill dubbed the Sand Act that would overturn the restrictions on sand is being sponsored by Republican Sen. Marco Rubio and Democratic Rep. Lois Frankel of West Palm Beach and is cosponsored by every member of Congress from South Florida.
“It’s such an archaic provision in the law, it’s many, many years old,” Frankel said.
“There’s resistance from the trucking and drudging industries because they make money; obviously they are saying they will lose money if there’s legislation,” Frankel said.
Frankel said that no other member of Congress has personally voiced opposition to the proposal, but “a lot of things go on behind the scenes.” One of the largest domestic dredging companies that frequently wins contracts in Florida, Illinois-based Great Lakes Dredge and Lock, is opposed to the proposal and has spent $165,000 in 2017 lobbying Congress on dredging-related issues, according to Senate lobbying records.
A representative for Great Lakes did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
The Sand Act was introduced at the beginning of this year’s hurricane season, before Irma washed away about 170,000 cubic yards of sand from Miami-Dade’s beaches. The amount of sand washed away, about the equivalent of 12,000 truckloads, was less than expected but will still cost millions to replace.
“We’re very lucky with regards to response for Hurricane Irma, it wasn’t catastrophic for us,” said Paul Voight, co-beach program manager for Miami-Dade County.
Currently, contracts for beach renewal projects in South Florida are awarded by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. Dredging and sand companies bid, and the Corps awards the contract. The most recent contract awarded in Miami-Dade County was $8.6 million to truck in 140,000 cubic yards of sand to replenish a stretch of Sunny Isles Beach. The federal government is covering 63 percent of the cost, with the remainder split between Miami Dade-County and the state of Florida.
But Miami-Dade officials argue that the only option left under current law is trucking in sand, because the county’s offshore sand reserve is gone. Other coastal counties in Florida have ample offshore sand reserves that could be dredged, but their governments don’t want to share with Miami.
“We’ve depleted all of our offshore sources of cheap sand,” Voight said. “The problem is the domestic dredging industry is lobbying strongly against it.”
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