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Column: Saudi to be utilized to replenish Florida beaches

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As in other moments of national stupidity, we’ve pretty much erased it from our memories, but back in the ’70s, during the Arab oil embargo, there was an idea going around that gained considerable popular support:

We present Saudi Arabia and other Mideast oil producers with this proposition: A bushel of wheat for a barrel of oil. The implication being that they take the deal or starve.

The flaw in the proposition was that those countries could go elsewhere — Russia, Central Europe, Latin America — to buy wheat. It would be at greater cost, to be sure, but since OPEC, or the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries, had pretty well cornered the world’s supply of money, that was not a great obstacle to the sheiks.

Things have changed, although not as much as one would expect.


The United States, rather than running out of oil, keeps finding more of it, and is, in fact, a net energy exporter.

Under the curious economics of supply and demand as they apply to the oil industry, gas is averaging about $3.55 at the pump, a price that would have been laughably high in the ’70s. “Oh, it’ll get bad,” the experts said, “but never that bad.”

It may be time to eat a little crow and dust off the crazy barter idea to obtain a product that the Mideast — especially our good friends the Saudis — has in abundance. That would be sand. Maybe we could offer them a bushel of oranges for a bushel of sand, or something along those lines.

It seems that Florida — or parts of it, at least — is running out of sand for beaches, and the beaches are what draw the tourists. No beaches, no tourists, just mosquitoes and the occasional Burmese python.

The solution until now — and not building on coastal land with its protective dunes and swamps is out — has been to go out to sea, pump up sand from the ocean bottom and dump it on the shore to replenish the beach. None of this is cheap.

One estimate is that the state has spent $886 million since 1923, and that doesn’t count the federal government’s share.

Several coastal counties are running out of sand to dredge up, because of storms and tides that cause beach erosion and, perhaps the worst enemy of all, a rising sea level.

The counties most affected are Miami-Dade — officially out of offshore sand — Broward and Palm Beach in South Florida. They are trying to talk counties farther north, like St. Lucie and Martin, into sharing some of their still-abundant supplies of offshore sand. No deal.

Showing unusual long-range vision for a county commissioner, a breed whose idea of long-range planning is next week, St. Lucie’s Frannie Hutchinson asked, “What happens in 50 years when all that sand is gone? Where are we supposed to go then?”

Here’s a suggestion: the Rub’ al-Khali of Saudi Arabia. It translates into “Empty Quarter,” but it’s not empty. It’s hundreds of thousands of square miles of sand, just sitting there.

If sand could think, it would rather be a beach than a desert, especially a South Florida beach.

It’s hard to believe that the Saudis would turn down any reasonable offer for sand that not only do they not use but have no use for. It may sound expensive and far-fetched, but importing Saudi sand is far better, and likely more comfortable, than the current popular proposal — grinding up old beer bottles to make sand.

Even the spring-break crowd doesn’t drink enough to make that viable.

Besides, the beer is served in cans or plastic to cut down on injuries.

Dale McFeatters is a senior writer for Scripps Howard News Service. Send comments to letters@dailyjournal.net.

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