Sand from inland mines is used for Collier beach renourishment
The notion that beachfront towns would need to pay big money for sand in Florida may seem as far-fetched as buying snow during a Rocky Mountain winter, but buying sand is becoming more common in Southwest Florida where the offshore piles of easy-to-reach white powder with the pitch-perfect squeak have been all but mined out.
Previous beach renourishments along both coasts of Florida have harvested offshore sand sources to the point at which it is often cheaper to haul the stuff from inland mines to the coast, truckload after truckload after truckload. The $5 million beach rebuilding effort underway on portions of Collier County’s shoreline is being dump-trucked in at 22 tons per load from Stewart Mining in Immokalee, some 30 miles inland.
“We’re running out of offshore sand supplies,” said Andy Miller, manager of Collier County’s Coastal Zone Management Section. “The sand that comes in from the trucks is flawless.”
At $11 a ton, the 268,500 tons of sand are sifted by machines at Stewart to match the color of the county’s existing beach, which is an off-white, and to match the size of the individual grains, which is about one-third of a millimeter.
Miller said the county switched to inland sand mines in 2013 and has completed five renourishments since then, not counting the current project.
The inland sand mines are remarkable. The tall, lanky system of drills and conveyors process sand stores hundreds of feet deep and often mix it to match the differing makeup of natural sand around the state. It’s multi-million-dollar industry and the appetite for inland sand is growing.
In October, beach builders started hauling in sand and dumped it along a two-mile section of Naples beach from Naples Pier to Lowdermilk Park. Then tractors spread out the sand in patterns that mimic the natural slope of the beach.
The first section was completed last month. Now the dredgers and their machines are moving sand on a 1.3-mile section of Vanderbilt Beach from just south of Delnor Wiggins State Park to about 2,600 feet south of Vanderbilt Beach Road, a section expected to be done by the end of the month.
In January the beach builders plan to renourish nearly a half-mile of shoreline along Pelican Bay Beach with mined sand, finishing in time for sea turtles looking to lay their eggs in nests dug deep into the impeccable new sand, in March.
“I’ve seen it before when they dredged sand from a few hundred yards off the beach and it is often filled with shells and dirt. It is not as pristine as what they are trucking out here,” Paul Beirnes, the executive director of the Naples, Marco Island, Everglades Convention & Visitors Bureau, said of beach renourishments in other places around the state. “This is perfect white sand. The whole process is amazing.”
Environmental reporting for WGCU is funded in part by VoLo Foundation, accelerating change and global impact by supporting science-based climate solutions, enhancing education, and improving health.