A potential solution to a troublesome sand shortage off Southeast Florida is tucked away in a massive water resources funding bill President Barack Obama signed into law last month.
The 2016 Water Resources Development Act authorizes the Army Corps of Engineers to study the potential of using foreign sand, such as from the Bahamas, to widen shorelines and protect coasts from hurricanes like the ones that lashed the Big Bend and northeastern Florida last summer.
In its “Shrinking Shores” investigation last year, the Naples Daily News reported Miami-Dade and Broward counties have exhausted their deposits of available offshore sand, leaving only sand that is too far offshore to retrieve or is nestled among protected reefs or other underwater marine features.
A federal search found enough sand to last 50 years, but beach project managers told the Daily News the sand is too dark and risks triggering sand wars with other coastal counties. Project managers said Bahamian sand is the region’s best chance to end expensive and inefficient sand hauls from inland mines.
But a ban, backed by the U.S dredging industry, on spending federal money on beach projects that use foreign sand stands in the way. Coastal communities can ill afford to forgo federal money for their beaches, the Daily News found.
Florida members of Congress tried again last year, unsuccessfully, to lift the ban.
The study provision in WRDA 2016 represents a compromise, said U.S. Rep. Lois Frankel, D-Boca Raton, who co-sponsored legislation to end the ban.
“I think we’re moving in a good direction,” Frankel said.
She said she would “be in touch” with the Corps of Engineers about whether the agency has money to conduct the study or money needs to be put in a budget. The WRDA provision put no timeline on the study, but she said she hopes it will be done by the next time Congress reauthorizes WRDA, scheduled for 2018.
“The Secretary (of the Army) is authorized to undertake a study of the economic and non-economic costs, benefits and impacts of acquiring by purchase, exchange or otherwise sediment from domestic and non-domestic sources for shoreline protection,” the provision states.
“Upon completion of the study, the Secretary shall report to Congress on the availability, benefits and impacts of using domestic and non-domestic sources of sediment for shoreline protection,” it reads.
An end to the ban on foreign sand is only part of any solution that would allow use of Bahamian sand. U.S. law, also backed by U.S. dredgers, prevents foreign-flagged vessels from bringing sand from the Bahamas to eroded Florida coastlines. To get around the law, sand would have to be transferred to a U.S.-flagged vessel, an expensive extra step.