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Beach Battle Brewing

December 5th, 2007 by Mike Vasilinda

Who can walk where is becoming a volatile issue on large stretches of the beaches in the Florida Panhandle. Hit by storms that shrunk beach fronts, wealthy homeowners have taken to posting dozens of no trespassing signs and calling police when people sunbathe on what they believe is their sand. As Mike Vasilinda tells us, the solution will likely come in court challenges.

Hear it here: Beach Battle Brewing

beach-sign.jpg

The tracks of man and animal have be imprinted on Floridas coastline for centuries, but as storms have shrunk beach areas, some homeowners have decided whats left is theirs. Dueling no trespassing signs are sprouting up along miles of beach front in the panhandle…and more are coming. Rod Coopers condo has the signs on his beach.

I like the idea that I paid for the use of a beach that not everybody can use, Cooper said.

If the property owners prevail, tourists could be corralled.

If one homeowner decides to put up a sign and another homeowner puts up one too, it would mean that some public access areas could be just a hundred feet wide.

An Atlanta tourist was arrested in July. Activists say its like killing the golden goose.

In Walton county particularly we dont have any industry except tourism, Jack Abbit said. Thats our biggest draw. And one of the reasons they come here is for our beautiful beaches.

The law says the beach is public on water side of the average high tide mark. But activists are preparing to go to court. They will argue all of the beach is open because thats the way its always been.

Even though people will say that their deeds go to the high water mark, the issue is, I think, the right of use, the right of customary use, beach activist Andrea Page said. And I think that is a shared right. It has traditionally always been a shared right.

The battle isnt new. But homeowners along the one thousand miles of Florida coast will be watching to see how this turns out, so theyll know where their beach ends and the publics begins.

The Florida Supreme Court is already considering a case where property owners tried to claim ownership of a panhandle beach that was re-nourished after the 2005 Hurricanes. Depending on the outcome, Walton County may ask the entire county to have its beaches re-nourished.

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