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Beach Access Questioned

December 2nd, 2009 by Mike Vasilinda

A Florida property rights dispute was the subject of a case before the US Supreme Court today. The case could have ramifications to every beachgoer in Florida. As Mike Vasilinda tells us, the issue is who owns the beach when it has been re-nourished.

Signs like these, which have popped up in the panhandle, could soon sprout all over Florida, depending on the outcome of a court battle over who owns beachfront after it has been re-nourished.

There is a group of beachfront property owners who have declared they own the beach; that the public doesnt have a right to use it, retiree and activist Jack Abbit said.

In Florida, the law says the public owns the land on the waterside of the mean high water mark. Traditionally dry sand belongs to the property owner.

Last year, Floridas Supreme Court ruled against five homeowners who claimed ownership of everything between their homes and the water. The court wrote that the constitution says the state has a duty to protect its natural resources and was justified in making the beach wider.

The argument made it all the way to the US Supreme Court on Wednesday.

The Attorney who argued the case says Florida courts got it wrong, the homeowners are entitled to their beach, and the re-nourishment was unnecessary.

Its a new 80-foot stretch of dry sand beach that the state created, that its entitled too on that dry sand beach,” Ken Safreit, attorney for the homeowners, said. “Commercial vendors can now come set up, thats what our clients objected to.

If the property owners win, they will ask to be paid for their land, or for title to the enlarged beach. Such a decision could affect beach ownership and public access around the state.

During this mornings hearings, a majority of the justices asked questions about Florida law and appeared to be siding with the homeowners.

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