Miami Beach

Surfside town manager resigns amid battles over beach sand

Surfside Town Manager Michael Crotty has resigned, as town staff, experts and residents continue to clash over the toxicity of sand on a section of the town’s beach.

The Town Commission accepted Crotty’s resignation at their meeting on June 24.

Crotty, who joined the city in March 2013, said he resigned because of personal issues and the time commitment running the town requires.

“It was my view that it would be better for the town and for myself,” Crotty said.

Town Mayor Daniel Dietch said Crotty was “a great manager for the town.” Dietch said, though, that “on some issues, he was not able to provide the administrative leadership that was necessary.”

Dietch and Crotty both said that conversations about Crotty’s work in Surfside preceded any issues with the sand transfer.

“Clearly the sand issue has taken a lot of my time, but this came up before the sand,” Crotty said.

Crotty will assist with the search of a new town manager, and will continue working with the town until a replacement is appointed. He said town officials and himself are seeking “an orderly exit.”

Crotty’s resignation comes at a time when some of the town’s residents have clashed with town staff over a sand transfer that occurred in May.

A developer, Fort Capital, placed sand excavated from underneath the construction site for a hotel and condominium structure that will be known as the Surf Club. Florida law says sand dug up from the area must be placed nearby, so this batch was placed along Surfside’s public beach. The law also states that the sand must be compatible with the sand already on the beach.

After the transfer, residents complained that the sand was very different from the sand that was already there. At a meeting in June, many disgruntled residents called it “dirt and not sand.”

When toxicology reports showed levels of arsenic higher than the state residential guidelines, a group of residents asked for the sand to be removed. But experts hired by town staff and the Miami-Dade County Health Department said the levels were so low they are not harmful to human or pet health, and are similar to levels found throughout the area.

Some residents are not convinced and continue to ask for the sand to be removed.

A temporary committee was created by city officials last month to address the continuing concerns.

Deborah Cimadevilla, one of the residents asking for the sand to be removed but who does not sit on the committee, said an independent toxicologist hired by residents also found levels of lead in the sand.

Crotty said the committee, which is composed of residents and experts, will review the findings and recommend course of action when they meet July 21.

“I think this committee is going to help separate what is fact and what is fiction,” Dietch said. “We also need to be sensitive to the feelings of residents.”

As the beaches in Surfside, like other beaches in South Florida, face beach erosion and a long wait until beach replenishment, Dietch said the committee will help prepare residents for the possibility of more sand that is different to what they are accustomed to.

“It will not live on forever,” he said. “It will help manage expectations for the future … for what beach renourishment will look like when it happens in Surfside. I just don't want to go through the same issues.”

In the search for a new town manager, city officials will be looking for someone with local connections and an understanding of South Florida, Dietch said.

Follow the reporter @MelhorL