Measure may limit public’s beach access

The future of beach-going in Florida is at stake as legislators have approved a bill which potentially removes the public’s customary right to access and use the “wet sand” portion of the beach on the ocean side of the mean high-water line.

It is believed that this effort would make it easier for beachfront property owners to put up fences, post “No Trespassing” signs and sue to keep more of Florida’s coastline off limits to the public.

Satellite Beach City Attorney James Beadle on March 21 explained to the Satellite Beach City Council on March 21 the measure, if signed by the governor, may not result in immediate installation of fences but “flips the coin” on the law in terms of preference of property owners’ rights over customary public use.

The bill was presented to Gov. Rick Scott that same day, March 21, for his signature. If he takes no action by April 5, the bill becomes law.

A homeowner’s property line can extend all the way to the mean high tide line – the point the water reaches at high tide. With beach erosion, that line becomes a moving target, but it’s typically identified as the “dry” sand area and the dunes. The “wet” sand area, or the sea side of the line of seaweed that washes ashore, has traditionally and by statute belonged to the public.

In an attempt to head off the state possibly upending this arrangement, the Satellite Beach City Council has approved a related ordinance regarding maintaining customary public use and access to the wet sand area of a beach on the ocean side of the mean high water line and the dry sand area addressed in the state bill – even if on private property.

In contrast, the bill before the governor states that a common law claim of customary use must apply to a particular parcel and must be determined by a court, said assistant Satellite Beach Assistant City Manager Suzanne Sherman.

“This change effectively precludes the use of local government ordinances to establish broad rights to access private property,’’ she said.

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