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Sand Stabilization: What Will It Do To Deerfield Beach? - 08/04/06

Experience teaches that things proposed to be done at the beach should be carefully and cautiously examined. This is because anything done at the beach, or even nearby, affects the culture and landscape of the beach area.

Change is inevitable, it is said. Change can be prudent or shortsighted. That's why proposals for the beach need to be subjected to public discussion, with the facts laid out. Let us take a closer look at the Ocean Way Sand Stabilization project proposed for the central part of Deerfield Beach.

As a process of open discussion with an opportunity for all points of view to be aired, the Sand Stabilization Program has been a model. It is not clear that the program was destined to be this from the beginning. However, Vice Mayor Pam Militello, whose district includes the beach, conducted a number of public workshops with the cooperation of the city's consultant on the project, CEPEMAR Environmental Services, and officials from Parks & Recreation.

With the help of a facilitator from FAU, Dr. Mantha Mehallis, citizens attending the workshops were able to question the consultants and state their opinions about the proposed program.

The Sand Stabilization Program will change the beach. This is a certainty. But how much, depends, and how this may adversely affect the use the beach by people is a matter of legitimate concern. After all, there is not much point to having and maintaining the beach if people cannot enjoy it in every possible way. Potential strategies for preventing everyday wind erosion and storm damage could block the open view from the adjacent walkways along this stretch of beach front which has been a part of the beach experience for just about as long as anyone can remember.

The proposed approach to sand stabilization is to plant certain types of vegetation known to hold the sand in natural dune systems. This is a common strategy in use at a number of Florida beaches for the purpose of sand stabilization. The claim is that these are low-growing plants that will not obstruct the view from the walkway or street. Some dispute this claim. For example, sea oats, one of the most common plants for these projects, grow to about 2 feet at maturity, but shoot higher plumes from which this plant derives its name. Sea oats are also vulnerable to trampling by people. This will make it necessary, therefore, to restrict access to the sand area to a certain number of access points where people will walk around the planted space. People may now access the sand from almost any point along this particular segment of the beach.

Ocean Way Looking North After Hurricane Wilma
Photo courtesy CEPEMAR Environmental Services. Click here for an en-
larged view.

Pictures of the severe storm damage brought by Hurricane Wilma to the beach last year may be a selling point for a sand stabilization program. Still, options range from doing nothing -- with the argument that this kind of storm damage hardly ever occurs -- to extreme measures such as walls, artificial dunes and hurricane fences which could drastically alter the landscape of the Deerfield Beach beach front.

Experience also teaches that things proposed to be done at the beach are not always what they seem. This is another reason why proposals should be carefully and cautiously examined. So let us take an even closer look at the Ocean Way Sand Stabilization Program.

First of all, severe storm damage is not what inspired the sand stabilization study. It is what happens every day. In fact, the study began before the 2004 or 2005 storm seasons when we did incur extraordinary and costly damage that could now, by chance, become an advertisement for the project.

But sand migration is a daily occurrence; it's just a matter of degree. Sand blown up by gentler winds to the walkways and roadways is recovered as a part of routine maintenance and returned to the beach. This costs taxpayers money. Thus sand stabilization is not just about the environment -- and how it is affected every day. It's about economics. The supporters of sand stabilization say that the program will save the city money.

This claim requires critical examination because it is too easy to make and is not supported by a firm cost analysis. We have been told that the cost benefits cannot be known until after the program is implemented. But, for the reasoning to be valid, routine maintenance costs which are now incurred must be eclipsed by a reduced price tag on implementing and maintaining the sand stabilization project (when it is fully implemented). It should be clear that the latter will offset the former and that there will be real savings to the city to justify sand stabilization on the basis of economics. Further, it must be shown that these "real savings" more than offset the social costs (e.g., the way it changes the beach experience for many people).

Finally, after the stabilization measures are in place -- vegetation or whatever -- are we to believe that no sand will blow off the beach onto the adjacent sidewalks and street, or that damage will be less severe if a major storm should blow our way again? If the sweepers or the dump trucks need to run anyway, to recover the sand and repair the damage, will there be actual savings to taxpayers, or just less sand to put back on the beach?

These are specific questions that should be addressed before the program is implemented. After the program is implemented, it cannot be undone. It would be shameful if no real cost benefits or environmental benefits resulted from the project and the beach is altered forever.

In an e-mail urging citizens to attend the workshops, Vice Mayor Militello stated:

I know that most of you care deeply about our beach. So, I am asking you to get involved and attend the forthcoming sand stabilization workshops. The city has retained CEPEMAR [Environmental Services] as a consultant to devise a plan to help stabilize the sand at our beach. The plan is to plant native vegetation in key areas at our beach to help prevent the sand from blowing off the beach onto the road and parking lots.

The key issues are to keep the easy access to our beach and the open view of our beach. It is imperative that these unique attributes of our beach are maintained. This is your chance to get involved and help us plan this important project. I have requested that the city and CEPEMAR hold three public workshops to get ideas from the citizens on the best way to stabilize the sand. CEPEMAR knows how important I feel it is to get public input and they are very excited to hear your ideas and comments.

Ocean Way Looking South After Hurricane Wilma
Photo courtesy CEPEMAR Environmental Services. Click here for an en-
larged view.

Sand Stabilization Update - 11/07/06

The initial proposal for the Sand Stabilization Program has been scrapped, apparently, mostly as a response to objections to some features of the program expressed at a series of public workshops conducted by Vice Mayor Pam Militello.

A program, which involves the planting of dune-friendly plants, will still be implemented but will be confined to the South Beach, that is, the area south of the Cove Beach Club to the city limits. This area of the beach is quite different from the beach north of the Cove Beach Club which is essentially level with the adjacent walkways. This section has been a popular place to walk for generations of Deerfield residents and visitors. The main objections to the proposal were that the view from the walkways would be obstructed by the plants; and access to the sand, which is now virtually unlimited, would necessarily be restricted to a few access points, to protect the plants from damage.

In some ways the Sand Stabilization program was a solution looking for a problem. It was never adequately shown that the benefits would outweigh the social and fiscal costs of the program. Moreover, the benefits were hypothetical. Would it save taxpayers money? Would it even work? Maybe, but we would not know for sure until the program was implemented. Unfortunately, the program could not be undone if it proved to be a waste: state law would prohibit removal of the plants once they were planted.