updated 2/14/2006 3:42:46 PM ET 2006-02-14T20:42:46

For tourists basking on its beaches, it may seem hard to believe. But Maui is running out of sand.

Sources of readily available sand for construction may run out within five to seven years, according to a report being prepared for Maui County. A vast system of sand dunes on the island has largely been covered by development, and what's left is being mined, the report says.

Maui sand is in high demand because it's a key ingredient in concrete and the only material now available for beach restoration projects. About 318,000 tons of sand are dug out each year from inland sources, and 70 percent of it is shipped to the main island of Oahu to feed Honolulu's hungry construction industry.

"When we run out of sand ... the only alternative will be to ship it in from another source, and my first reaction is it will have a significant impact on the cost of concrete," said Eric Yoshizawa, vice president of Ameron Hawaii, which is excavating on some of the last undeveloped dunes.

Even costlier housing
"It doesn't bode well for the future of affordable housing on Maui," Yoshizawa said.

Local environmentalists and construction industry leaders are urging the county to preserve what sand the island has left. They also want officials to restrict the export of sand to Honolulu.

"Anyone who knew about it would know we're running out of sand," said Chip Fletcher, professor of geology and geophysics at the University of Hawaii-Manoa. "It's just surprising it's happening so soon."

About 5.5 million tons of sand have been mined on Maui over the last 20 years, according to the report prepared by consultant Howard Hanzawa for the county Department of Public Works and Environmental Management.

There is still plenty of inland sand on the island, but it's now inaccessible beneath development. At this rate, open sand supplies could be exhausted in just under six years, according to the report.

Unattractive alternatives
If the dunes run out of sand, there won't be many alternatives. Importing granite sand or developing a new product out of crushed rock would increase the cost of concrete and give it a less-desirable texture he said.

And for beach restoration, the only other option would be to dredge sand from the ocean floor.

The price of sand already has been climbing over the last decade — from $5 a ton to $20 on Maui, and from $10 a ton to $40 in Honolulu.

Copyright 2006 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.


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