There have been lots of questions about beach access legislation that was recently signed into law by Governor Scott. HB 631, Possession of Real Property, was sponsored by Representative Katie Edwards Walpole (D- Plantation) and Senator Kathleen Passidomo (R- Naples). Click here to view the bill details. Only the last section of the bill (Section 10, beginning at line 362) deals with beach access, the rest is unrelated and pertains to various property issues. Please read item #6 for details on what you can do now to help preserve beach access.
- Does this bill make all beaches private?
No- there are a number of factors that determine whether a beach is public or private. In some cases, property owners have the ability to own all the way to the mean high water line, however, factors like beach nourishment, implied or explicit easements, local ordinances can impact the underlying ownership of the beach. In most cases, you must look parcel by parcel to determine where the private property ends. For all beaches in Florida, the public has the right to access the beach seaward of the Mean High Water Line. This land is held in trust for the public, see Article X, Section 11 of the Florida Constitution.
- What does this bill do?
It potentially makes it harder for local governments to protect beach access through local customary use ordinances. Specifically, local governments can no longer pass local customary use ordinances directly but now have to have a court ratify a local declaration of customary use. The legislation also takes away an existing beach access ordinance in Walton County, but allows Volusia and St. Johns counties to keep their beach access ordinances.
- So, what’s the bottom line for beachgoers?
This bill is bad- it makes it harder for local governments to protect beach access for the public, it’s confusing and damaging for local tourism economies, and it sets a bad precedent. That said, unless you are in Walton County, it should not cause immediate changes in beach access or your ability to utilize the beach. If you do have issues accessing the beach, please contact your local Surfrider chapter for guidance.
- Has this bill passed? What can we do?
This bill has passed and was signed into law by Governor Scott. You can, however, reach out to your local city and county officials and ask them to move forward with the new process (going to circuit court) for declaring customary use to protect local beach access. You can also get involved in the legislative process to support positive, proactive beach access legislation in the 2019 Legislative Session. Lastly, you should volunteer with our chapter – beach access is one of our core missions and we are constantly fighting to make sure everyone can enjoy our coasts.
- Why didn’t anyone oppose this?
The Surfrider Foundation spoke out against this bill in every public hearing, sent out action alerts, and helped flood legislators phones and emails with opposition to this legislation. We also had forty chapter activists from across the state visit Tallahassee to speak against the bill and meet with their local legislators. Additionally, our coalition partners the Sierra Club of Florida and Florida Wildlife Federation opposed this bill. We encourage you to get involved with your local Surfrider Foundation chapter to fight for beach access, we also hope you’ll join us in Tallahassee for our annual Florida Coasts & Ocean Advocacy Day.
6. What can I do now?
We are happy to see that Flagler County is in the process of drafting a new ordinance to retain customary use access but we need your help to support it by providing statements.
We need to collect statements from Flagler County beach-goers, describing when, how and why they accessed the beach. These statements will be used to establish a long-standing local tradition of beach access that will help support an ordinance to keep customary use access. You may email statements to: email@example.com.
Alternatively, you may also give a statement in person at the next public meeting at 5:30 pm on Monday, June 18. Meetings are held at the Government Services Building, 1769 E. Moody Blvd. in Bunnell, FL 32110.
Statements need not be long or formal, but should cover the following:
1. Generally what part of the beach was used. For example, in the Hammock or north of Jungle Hut or at XYZ street in Flagler Beach.
2. The type of use. For example, fishing, surfing, sunbathing, etc.
3. Timing. For example, every weekend in the 1980s, or since 1975 or for the last ten years.
Other important notes:
- You do not need to be a Flagler County Resident to make a statement. You only need to have regularly accessed the beaches in Flagler County.
- You do not need to be a Surfrider member to participate.