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New state law may limit public access to private beaches

Starting July 1, local governments will need a court order to allow public access to private beaches
May 06, 2018 10:45AM

Private beach in Walton County (Credit: Gregg Pachkowski/Pensacola News-Journal)

UPDATED 2:20 p.m., May 7: Starting July 1, a new state law will make it harder for local governments to allow public access to privately owned beaches. A vote by leaders of local government will no longer be sufficient.

Under the law, a local government that wants to allow public access to private beaches will need a court order to enforce a “customary use” law that allows public recreation on dry-sand areas of Florida beaches.

Private ownership of Florida beaches extends from the mean high-tide line landward, and public access extends from the mean high-tide land seaward, which is owned by the state.

Opponents of the new law worry that it will encourage private beach owners to restrict public access by roping off their sand or posting signs to deter trespassing.

Glenn Jergesen, who runs the Palm Beach County Tourist Development Council, is concerned about new limits on public access to private beaches because recreation in or near the ocean is the primary draw for tourists.

However, some resorts with beach property don’t intend to restrict public access.

Laurie Hedrick, director of public relations for the Four Seasons Palm Beach, told the Palm Beach Daily News that the beachfront resort won’t try to limit public access to its sand.

Billionaire real estate developer Jeff Greene, owner of the Tideline Resort & Spa in Palm Beach, said he wants public access to the resort’s beach.

Florida has 825 miles of sandy beaches, according to the state Department of Environmental Protection.

But a DEP spokeswoman said the state agency is unaware of how many miles of sandy beaches are privately owned. [Palm Beach Daily News] – Mike Seemuth

An earlier version of this story incorrectly identified Laurie Hedrick’s title.