About this time last year, Surfside residents were displeased to find a significant amount of new sand from a construction site dumped on their beach. Since then, the sand has been a hot topic and has yet to be removed.
Last March, Fort Capital, a real estate investment management company based in Miami, dug up sand from underneath the construction site on 9011 Collins Ave., the site of a hotel and condominium called the Surf Club.
Florida law says excavated sand must be placed near the site from which it came. As such, the developer spread the sand over Surfside’s public beach.
The state’s law also says the sand must be compatible with the existing sand, but residents believed the sand was completely different, even calling it dirt. They voiced their concerns about the toxicity of the sand during various town hall meetings and claim that they find debris like metal nails and concrete boulders on a daily basis, even after numerous sand sifting activities.
Town officials convened a committee last June to address the residents’ concerns. After four months of meetings, the committee recommended to the town commission that the sand be removed and placed in the dunes. The commission approved the measure unanimously in September.
By the beginning of this year, no action has been taken to remove the sand. Surfside officials and the town manager say the conditions to remove the sand have changed, showing reports of no health hazards and a discrepancy in estimated costs to relocate it.
In February, the town held a special meeting devoted to discussing the sand. They unanimously approved an ordinance to urge the Florida legislature and state Department of Environmental Protection to establish chemical testing standards prior to issuing a permit that authorizes the transfer and placement of excavated sand onto a public beach.
Then they addressed amendments for the town’s standards on sand placed on their beach for future purposes, preventing a repeat of this issue.
“The purpose of this ordinance is to protect the health of the residence of Surfside and visitors by propagating regulations that are more comprehensive than the requirements of DEP for sand placed on the beach as a result of coastal construction,” said Jane Graham, the assistant town attorney.
Currently in Florida, there are few regulations on the composition of sand placed on beaches and no chemical testing requirements. The town decided to amended their own standards to create stricter rules for their beach.
With the exception of certain wording and a disagreement on what color the sand should be, residents in Surfside were pleased.
“Let me commend you on being probably the first community in the state to actually have something in this nature,” said David Raymond, a Surfside resident who worries about lead in the sand and the size of the dunes. “I think you’ve come up with a great ordinance for first reading.”
But the majority of the meeting was spent discussing sand relocation. Some residents felt that too much time has already been spent discussing the sand.
Longtime resident Lou Cohen recalls previous construction of two buildings where sand was dug up and spread along the beach.
“There wasn’t one word of negative comment from any citizen then,” he said. “We’ve made a big to do, maybe out of something we should make a big to do out of, but it’s been overblown.”
Others grow increasingly frustrated as the days pass and the sand continues to sit on the beach.
Deborah Cimadevilla, a 15-year-resident of Surfside, hired attorneys.
“I wanted to have legal representation to hold the town accountable,” said the mother of two young children.
In hopes to help the town solve this ongoing issue, attorney Alexander Tachnes of Fort Capital Management representing the Surf Club offered $250,000 to purchase new sand under two conditions:
▪ The existing sand not be removed from the beach, since the beach is already depleted.
▪ Cimadevilla and her attorneys enter into a settlement agreement and drop their objections with regards to the sand issue.
“There’s nothing wrong with the sand and there has been no evidence to prove otherwise,” said Tachnes, who noted that Surf Club is not legally obligated to do anything. “We would not want to be selling multimillion dollar condos to residents that will be living there with a beach that has a million problems.”
However some residents disagreed with that solution.
“The safe option is to completely remove it,” said Cimadevilla, who has gone out to the beach with a metal detector and found numerous items she considers dangerous. “We want the best beach and that will do it.”
The discussion on sand placement continued into March 11, where both Vice Mayor Eli Tourgeman and Commissioner Barry Cohen urged the developers to remove the sand.
“We can’t face our residents anymore with this,” said Cohen, who recalls a time early last year when representatives from the development company stated that they would fix the problem. “I think it’s their responsibility to correct the situation that they’ve created.”
Michael Kashtan, general counsel for Fort Capital, noted that the company has responded to all the issues presented over the last year and believed the sand to be problem free.
“We were told the beach was clean,” Kastan said. “We are with you. We want a clean beach. There’s no question about it. We want a pristine beach for the residents of Surfside and those who visit.”
Kastan requested some time for the development company to investigate and come up with a solution that works for everybody.
“The residents have waited a year,” Tourgeman said.
As of Monday, there have been no updates on a resolution. The Surf Club is preparing to release a statement on Thursday.