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Gone with the wind: storms deepen Florida’s beach sand crunch

Published on February 16, 2018


Gone with the wind: storms deepen Florida's beach sand crunch

FLAGLER COUNTY, Fla (Reuters) – Down the palm tree-lined roads of northeast Florida’s Flagler County, a half-dozen dump trucks are shuttling back and forth along the Atlantic coast pouring thousands of tons of sand onto the local beach.

Replacing sand swept away by waves and wind is critical work to protect seaside homes and businesses as well as the tourism dollars brought by northerners seeking refuge from the cold in the Sunshine State.

Getting enough of it, for the right price and in time for the peak tourist season, has become much harder after a violent storm year that brought Irma, the most powerful hurricane to hit the state in over a decade, and saddled Florida with more than $50 billion in damage.

Costs of so-called beach renourishments are a fraction of the total, measured in hundreds of millions of dollars, but the effort is crucial for Florida’s $67 billion tourism industry. And while sand needs are surging, there is not enough to go around.

“It’s like the slow progression of tooth decay versus a fight where someone knocks out your teeth all at once,” Flagler County Administrator Craig Coffey said, referring to sand lost during Irma and Hurricane Matthew, which buffeted Florida’s coast in October 2016.

With the longest coastline of any mainland U.S. state, more money and time is spent fixing up Florida’s shores – widening and building dunes – than in any other state.

But after seven decades of rebuilding its beaches, the state is now struggling with sand shortages, rising costs and tight public funds even during calmer years. The quick succession of powerful storms makes the challenges even more daunting.

By one estimate, based on a sample of beaches, Irma knocked out four times the amount of sand Matthew displaced, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers spokesman John Campbell said.

Matthew was already considered one of the worst storms in recent memory.

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