Supreme Court To Hear Florida Beach Dispute Case

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A property rights case goes before the justices of the United States Supreme Court this week. On one side, the state of Florida; on the other, property owners who object to the state’s plan to preserve the beach by importing sand and making the newly created dry beach public property.

For years, beach preservation projects spearheaded by the state have been popular with officials and property owners alike, as hurricanes and simple erosion have battered the 2,000-plus miles of Florida’s shoreline. New sand is literally added to the beach at the waterline, in order to extend the beach futher out in the ocean. This keeps the water far enough away from homes, as well as adding dry land for recreational purposes.

Yet some owners are beginning to complain that the beach restoration is nothing more than a “land grab” on the part of the state. When the restoration began, the state decided that the property line for private beach-front property lay at the point where the dry sand met the wet sand, and that the line would not change even after more dry sand was added. In other words, the state is creating new public property with the addition of the sand.

Since state law bars the construction of anything that obscures a homeowner’s view of the ocean, and guarantees access to the water, the rights of the private property owners are still protected, even though there is a strip of public land standing between them and the water. Additionally, say advocates for the state, the new strip of beach was created by state-owned sand, and is created over what was submerged state land, which makes it public property.

Six homeowners have challenged the beach restoration project, saying that takes the land without offering just compensation. Their case went to the Florida Supreme Court, which ruled in favor of the state, saying that the landowners are not entitled to compensation under state law. In its ruling, the Florida Supreme Court said that the program was intended “to protect Florida’s beaches in a way that reasonably balances public and private interests,” because the homeowner retains access to the water. Florida common law, said the court, does not provide to a landowner the right to own any emerging land.

Now the issue goes before the country’s highest court, in a case which could have implications for many coastal regions. Possibly complicating the matter is the fact that at least one of the justices owns a vacation home on Florida’s shore.

 

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