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Supreme Court rules on beach restoration

Oct 1st, 2008 | 0

By LEAH STRATMANN

A lawsuit originally filed in 2005 by a group of beachfront homeowners during Walton County’s beach restoration project, which restored 26,200 feet of beach over five miles in western Walton County in 2006-2007, questioned ownership rights of the beach. On April 19, 2007, the Florida State Supreme Court held a hearing to decide the case, and at that time no ruling was rendered. This week, the Supreme Court ruled in favor of Walton County, upholding that the Beach and Shore Preservation Act does not unconstitutionally deprive upland owners of littoral rights without just compensation. The five-to-two ruling supports the public’s use of the beach south of the mean high water line along the restored beaches in western Walton County.
“This ruling is great news for Walton County,” said Sonny Mares, executive director of the South Walton County Tourist Development Council (SWTDC). “This ruling impacts the western Walton County beach restoration project as well as future projects that may take place in Walton County and throughout the State of Florida.”
After a lengthy deliberation, the Florida State Supreme Court determined that the case should be addressed as a “facial” challenge instead of an “applied” challenge as originally heard by the First District Court of Appeals. As such, this decision focused on the Beach and Shore Preservation Act, which upholds the state’s constitutional duty to protect Florida’s beaches. The act achieves a reasonable balance between public and private interests in the shore. The justices reiterated that the act benefits upland owners by restoring lost beach, by protecting their property from future storm damage and erosion and by preserving their rights to use and view the beach. The act also benefits upland owners by protecting their right of access to the water. Finally, the act authorizes actions to reclaim public beaches that are also authorized under the common law after an event such as a storm.
The beach restoration project was vital in providing upland protection from future storm surge and for the economic vitality of the county through tourism. The project has proved effective after a series of recent storms created high storm surge, which could have potentially caused erosion along this stretch of beach. Instead the additional sand, some of which had moved out to the near shore area, was pushed back on to the beach and in some cases led to accretion.
The economic vitality to the region is heavily dependant on the area’s beaches, and research shows that the beaches are the number- one reason people visit the area.  In 2007, Walton County’s beaches attracted 2.9 million visitors, who spent more than $1 billion in Walton County. Tourism supports more than 12,150 jobs and generates approximately $304 million in local income annually.
The Walton County portion of the project was paid for using state grants, bed tax collections, and a loan that is pledged against future bed tax revenue, which is paid by visitors on short-term lodging rentals.

beach.jpg

SAND BEING pumped onshore in Walton County’s recent large-scale beach restoration project. A lawsuit originally filed in 2005 by a group of beachfront homeowners during Walton County’s beach restoration project questioned ownership rights of the beach. This week, the Supreme Court ruled in favor of Walton County, upholding that the Beach and Shore Preservation Act does not unconstitutionally deprive upland owners of littoral rights without just compensation. The five-to-two ruling supports the public’s use of the beach south of the mean high water line along the restored beaches in western Walton County. (Photo by Dotty Nist)

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