Update: $1.8 million sand renourishment project in Sunny Isles Beach to start Jan. 6

Vacationers and snowbirds may need to avoid nearly a mile of the beach in Sunny Isles due to a multi-month sand renourishment project slated to start next week. 

The project was scheduled to run from mid-November to mid-January from approximately Terracina Avenue to 185th Street, but was delayed due to permitting issues, said Assistant City Manager Kathryn Matos.

Work on the three-quarter mile project will begin on Jan. 6, she said.  

The Estates of Acqualina will pay around $1.8 million for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to add 80,000 cubic yards of sand to the beach, according to Alexandra Wesley, the spokeswoman for Acqualina.

Sunny Isles Beach is not paying for the renourishment and only designates the location for the sand placement, which is decided by the city commission “based on the area of greatest need at the time the beach-fill project is being planned,” said City Manager Christopher Russo. 

“Developers on the east side of Collins Avenue are required by city ordinance to place whatever quantity of material is excavated from their project site, back on the beach in the form of beach quality sand, which goes through rigorous quality testing by the state and county before it is allowed to be placed,” said Russo. 

“They’re paying $62 a cubic yard for sand. That’s the size of a filing cabinet. It’s expensive because they’re getting it from upland areas,” said Randall Parkinson, an associate professor for Florida International University’s Sea Level Solutions Center. 

Parkinson was a chief scientist for the Sebastian Inlet Tax District Commission in Brevard County, where he designed and managed beach nourishment projects in the 1980s. 

The sand will be coming in from the Vulcan Materials Witherspoon Sand Mine, located in Moore Haven, southwest of Lake Okeechobee. It is a 100-mile trip from Sunny Isles Beach.

“A typical dump truck can carry 10 cubic yards of sand. So, 14,000 dump trucks are going to be coming in and out of Sunny Isles, creating potholes, accidents, tip-overs, dust, dirt, air pollution and noise pollution,” said Parkinson. 

In addition, the sand coming in does not match the sand that originally covered Sunny Isles.

“If you stand barefoot on real sand, it’s not going to be hot even if it’s hot outside. Now if you stand on fake sand, or synthetic sand, then it would be hot, which it’s always hot in Miami Beach,” said Nicholas Machin, the assistant project manager of Gonzalez & Sons Equipment, Inc. Engineering, contractors of the sand renourishment project.

Machin does not think that sand will run out for renourishment projects. Parkinson disagrees.

“Sand is not a renewable resource. You mine sand from deposits offshore or from inland mines but that’s not an infinite supply and it will run out,” said Parkinson. 

Coastal cities around the U.S. work on sand renourishment projects to combat sand erosion.

“On average we lose approximately 15,000 cubic yards of sand per year, so the coordinated efforts between our city staff and government agencies have proven successful thus far at renourishing sand on our beach,” said Sunny Isles Beach Commissioner Alex Lama in a newsletter. 

Parkinson said that beach nourishment should be used as a transitional, not a permanent, strategy for sand erosion and the growing threat from sea level rise.

“Now that we know that climate change is real and happening now, these challenges to urbanizing coasts are only going to get more intense because we’re going to have more frequent and intense tropical storms and hurricanes and sea-level rise is accelerating,” said Parkinson. 

He said that cities need to prepare for managed withdrawals.

“We’re going to have to retreat from the coastline. That’s it. We do not have a choice.”

The beach will remain open but a temporary construction fence will be set up in affected areas. 

Project hours will run from 7:30 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. on weekdays. Work on Saturdays will only take place if needed to catch up from delays. No work will take place on Sundays or on holidays.

Anna Radinsky is a senior at FIU majoring in journalism and sociology. Besides covering news around Sunny Isles Beach, she also runs the entertainment section of PantherNOW, FIU's student newspaper. She writes profiles on interesting people and covers news related to social and environmental issues, as well as culture and art.