By DOTTY NIST
Walton County’s beachfront is being accessorized by beachfront property owners, but aesthetics is not the idea.
In former years, “private beach” signs were none or few along Walton County’s beachfront, but now these signs are on the increase.
Brian Kellenberger, director of beach operations for the Walton County Tourist Development Council (TDC), said TDC beach personnel have seen many more of these signs go up since last year.
Kellenberger spoke in support of the public’s ability to “walk, traverse, and enjoy” the beach seaward of the mean high water line. Unfortunately, he said, there are a dozen or so homeowners or associations who no longer want to see people on the beach by their homes other than owners or their guests.
For the increase in “private beach” signs, Kellenberger credits owners seeing the signs and wanting their own or, unfortunately, more incidences of “disruptive” beachgoers. Walton County’s Beach Activities Ordinance, enforced by TDC code enforcement officers and the WCSO, does prohibit disorderly conduct, breach of peace, and littering on the beaches.
In addition to “private beach” signs, in recent months, there have been instances of beachfront property owners roping off their property boundaries or placing chains around the boundaries.
Kellenberger highlighted the policy set by the Office of the State Attorney, the Walton County Sheriff’s Office (WCSO), and the Walton County Board of County Commissioners in 2009 regarding criminal action for trespass on the beach. Still in force, the policy states that such action will not be taken in the following areas of the beach: wet sand areas, areas south of the mean high tide mark, and areas nourished with state or federal funds.
The boundaries of many but not all beachfront lots in Walton County are deeded to the mean high water line.
The 2009 policy also states that, in order for trespass action to be taken, it is the responsibility of the property owner to have their property boundaries marked.
As in recent years, there have been calls this season to law enforcement from beachfront property owners to have beachgoers removed from the beach south of their homes. The WCSO strives to mediate conflicts between property owners and beachgoers in these instances.
Kellenberger said the TDC personnel are not involved with beach trespass issues, that this is under the purview of the WCSO. Signs placed on the beach forward of the Coastal Construction Control Line (CCCL), he added, fall under the authority of the state Department of Environmental Protection (DEP). Kellenberger said that TDC personnel do contact DEP if they see a sign in violation of the statutes enforced by DEP.
Established by Florida Statute, the CCCL defines the portion of the beach-dune system that is subject to severe fluctuations.
Kellenberger said TDC code officers do enforce Walton County’s Leave No Trace Ordinance with regard to signs, just as is the case with other articles left on the beach in the evening. The ordinance prohibits leaving items on the beach at night “that interfere with beach maintenance, nesting turtles, or emergency vehicles…”
Kellenberger explained that code enforcement does not take action with regard to monopole signs as long as the signs are not placed within the one-third of the beach closest to the water as measured from the toe of the dune and do not stay in place during evening hours. Removal of the monopole signs is required in the evening.
DEP Deputy Press Secretary Dee Ann Miller said that the agency does not prohibit monopole signs on the beach forward of the CCCL or require a permit for such signs. However, she said, signs with more than one pole are considered structures and do require DEP authorization On signs being permitted by the agency, Miller said, DEP does verify ownership of the property by deed and survey or affidavit.
She explained that DEP does not regulate the “content” or message on signs.
On the question of the use of ropes or chains, Miller said their use is not disallowed—but that before using these materials there is a requirement for the property owner to consult with DEP to see if a permit would be needed for the chains or ropes. These items are no longer considered automatically exempt structures, she explained.
Kellenberger said that roping or chaining off of beachfront property boundaries has been observed mainly on lots in the vicinity of public beach accesses.
Signs bearing the messages “Public park ends here” and “posted private property” now stand on either side of the TDC-maintained regional beach access at Dune Allen/Fort Panic. Signs instruct beachgoers to “please walk along the water’s edge, beach restoration in progress.”
The last statement is puzzling, since Walton County is not conducting a beach nourishment project at this time and no such project of any kind is apparent.
On May 20, Ed Goodwin, owner of a beachfront home in the vicinity of the Dune Allen/Fort Panic Regional Beach Access, was cited by a TDC code enforcement officer. Kellenberger explained that the citation was in connection with Goodwin marking his property with posts and chains that extended south of the vegetation line, accompanied by the property owner’s refusal to remove the items in the evening, in violation of the Leave No Trace Ordinance.
Goodwin contested the citation and requested a hearing on the matter in court. The posts and chains have now been removed. In his letter requesting a hearing, Goodwin stated, “…please be advised that in the interim, under protest, we have complied with the code enforcement officer’s requirements related to the chain/post boundary markers on our property.”
Contacted on July 7, Goodwin complained that, after advising him to mark his property boundaries, the county had ordered the removal of those boundaries at night and had claimed “unimpeded access” to the sand on his property up to the vegetation line during the evening. Goodwin contends that his property, which is deeded to the mean high water line, now extends approximately 15 feet into the gulf, according to a recent survey. He called the code enforcement action a “taking” of his property.
At Goodwin’s request, he has been scheduled for a Sept. 3 hearing. The hearing is to be in conjunction with Walton County Traffic Court on that date, with Walton County Circuit Court Judge David Green to preside.
By DOTTY NIST