Miami Beach leaders can’t agree on what to do about climate change. But one way to keep the condos dry, at least for now, is to build a buffer between the condos and the rising seas.
That means dumping fresh sand on the beach — $16 million worth.
To push back against erosion caused by sea level rise and storms, four beachfront strips on Miami Beach are receiving a federally funded face lift beginning this week.
Crews will dump 100 truckloads of sand every day. A total of 61,000 tons will be used. The sand comes via trucks from a mine in Hendry County, east of Fort Myers, courtesy of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, which routinely conducts “beach renourishment” projects along Miami-Dade County’s coastline.
The four erosion “hotspots” eligible for the retouching are at 65th, 55th, 44th and 27th streets. Residents and visitors will have to access the beach around the construction zones until work is completed in June.
The first phase of construction will finish on March 18, then crews will move south. The second phase will run from March 2 to April 20, the third from April 2 to May 29 and the last leg, on 27th Street, will take place between May 11 and June 5.
Hotspots at 44th Street and 55th Street were previously renourished by the feds between August 2016 and March 2017.
In 2018, Miami-Dade County completed an emergency renourishment between 66th Street and 68th Street after wind and rain from Hurricane Irma battered the shoreline.
Dr. Stephen Leatherman, a professor of earth and environment at Florida International University, said alternatives to beach renourishment include building offshore reefs, which would come with a “significant” cost, or using “dewatering technology” to hold sand in place longer.
Recent renourishment projects in Miami Beach have typically involved trucking sand from Central Florida. A federal law prohibits local governments from importing foreign sand from places like the Bahamas, which would be a cheaper option.
Work began Jan. 2 at the 65th Street beach, and the first loads of sand dropped on Wednesday. The contractor, Eastman Aggregate Enterprises, is working on Miami Beach seven days a week between 7 a.m. and 11 p.m.
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Once the work is completed in June, the beaches will appear wider and healthier. The coast will appear straighter.
Leatherman, known as Dr. Beach for his expertise in coastal ecology, said these areas were chosen because they are eroding faster than the average rate on Miami Beach of one foot per year.
“The nourished area will not actually jut out into the ocean — the new sand will be just be filling in a ‘hole’ in the beach, which will help to make the shoreline straighter along its length,” he said.
These areas “must be nourished on a continuing basis to maintain a suitably wide beach for recreational usage and to protect the infrastructure” like hotels, boardwalks and sand dunes, he said in an emailed statement.
He said the mined sand is from “ancient beach and dune deposits,” mostly composed of quartz material. The sand on the beach is primarily calcium carbonate, the product of dredging the deposits of coral sand between the offshore coral reefs about 40 years ago, he said.
“The quartz sand is about the same grain size and whiteness as the carbonate sand so most beachgoers will not detect any difference,” Leatherman said.
The Miami Beach renourishment project is part of the larger Miami-Dade County Beach Erosion Control and Hurricane Protection Project, which was funded by the Bipartisan Budget Act of 2018, according to a spokeswoman with the Army Corps of Engineers in South Florida.
The majority of the $158 million project budget will go toward renourishment in Bal Harbour and Sunny Isles. Also included in the project is work on Surfside.
In Surfside, crews began work in August 2019 to place about 66,000 tons of sand along the entire town’s beachfront from 87th Terrace to 96th Street. Work will wrap up around April.
Renourishment in Bal Harbour, slated to begin in July, will involve dredging up to 48,000 tons of sand from Baker’s Haulover Inlet, Baker’s Haulover flood shoal and the Intracoastal Waterway — and from an upland sand mine if needed. That sand will be placed on the beach from the inlet to 96th Street. That work will begin in July.
The final phase of renourishment will begin in November in Sunny Isles. The plan may include more than 200,000 tons of sand to be placed along most or all of the beachfront of the city. If areas of Miami Beach require more attention, leftover sand will be placed north of Government Cut, the Corps said.
The Bal Harbour and Sunny Isles projects cost significantly more than those on Miami Beach and in Surfside, the Corps said, because of the amount of sand used and the difficulty in obtaining the sand, along with extra federal studies needed for those projects.
Miami-Dade County will relocate sea turtle nests if necessary, and monitor the shoreline daily for migratory birds and turtles. Construction will pause if sea turtles are present at any time. They arrive seasonally, typically starting May 1.
“Due to safety concerns, some beach access areas will be closed and public access to the beach will be restricted during construction,” the Corps said in a press release. “Members of the public should follow the instructions of construction personnel, observe all posted signs regarding closed areas and stay away from areas fenced with orange construction netting.”