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County to Miami: ‘Leave our sand alone. Get yours from Bahamas’

STORY BY LISA ZAHNER
Photos: Indian River County beaches earlier this winter.

The County Commission voted unanimously last week to oppose pumping sand from the seabed a mile off Round Island Park and sending it south to replenish beaches in Miami.

The County fears sending offshore sand south could deplete reserves that might be needed for beach repair here after future storms.

At the same time, the Commission came out in support of Miami leaders who want to purchase Bahamian sand instead of taking sand from Indian River County.

The Bahamians are willing sellers, but the federal government will only allow “domestic sand” to be used in beach replenishment projects. Commissioners told county staff to use whatever pull the County has with legislators to help get the regulations changed to permit Bahamian sand to be used.

County Coastal Engineer James Gray brought the issue to the commission on behalf of the Beach and Shores Advisory Committee.

“There’s an ongoing (controversy) – in the press, it’s called the sand wars,” Gray said, explaining that the proposal now being considered would ship bulk sand southward to complete projects that are partially funded by federal dollars.

“That removal of material, if that proposal did go through, could . . . (deplete) our sources, our off-shore sources that we have used in the past,” Gray said.

Commissioner Peter O’Bryan said that “Miami-Dade is not the bad guy here, they would actually prefer the Bahamian sand” and that he regrets some of the media coverage that presents South Florida leaders as making a raid on local sand.

O’Bryan said Miami-Dade officials are bucking the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and that the Bahamian sand is cheaper because it’s actually closer for a dredge-and-pump operation than the approved, off-shore area off Round Island Park, which runs south into St. Lucie and Martin counties.

Indian River County has chosen to use trucked-in sand from sand pits west of town for the past three beach replenishment projects dating back to 2010, in part to provide jobs for the local trucking and sand-mining industries during a construction dead period.

But the County does not want to lose the resource of the local off-shore sand should a major hurricane come through and a large-scale sand pumping project become economically more feasible.

“We have some concerns because Round Island is our dedicated source and it’s right on the line of St. Lucie County, which is one of the counties being considered in this,” Beach and Shores Advisory Committee member Tuck Ferrell of the North Beach Civic Association told the Board.

“I think we should work on this Bahamian sand situation, it’s a much more appropriate source and it’s closer. I’d hate for them to start depleting our sand nearby because it’s not a renewable resource,” Ferrell said.

Trucked-in sand projects are typically on the smaller side and take multiple seasons to accomplish, as work can only be done outside of turtle nesting season. Though the County’s new suppliers and contractors seem to have somewhat improved the efficiency of the upland mining and processing effort, a pumped-in sand project using a dredge vessel could shore up imperiled beaches in two months after a permit was issued.