Access Bill Hands Beaches Over to The Rich

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How Does it Affect Volusia County?

*The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of the East Coast Current.

Recently, Governor Rick Scott signed House Bill 631 into law, which restricts a local government’s ability to enact “customary use” ordinances on public beaches. Since time immemorial, Florida’s beaches east (or west on the west coast) of the dune line have been sanctioned for public use, even when private property owners maintain property lines to the mean high tide line. This bill will convolute the issue of beach access, and allow private property owners to claim littoral rights down to the mean high tide line. All areas seaward of the mean high tide line will remain in the public domain. But, what does this mean for Volusia County? In a nutshell, not much will change for now.

While this bill is an alarming step in the wrong direction, and limits the public’s access to their beaches, it is important to note that three Florida counties are exempted from HB 631, and Volusia is one of them. Because Volusia County has customary use ordinances enacted prior to 2016, our current beach code will stand in place, and beachfront homeowners will not be permitted to restrict access to areas east of the dune line. The other exempted counties are St. Johns and Walton.

The bill was sponsored by Representative Katie Edwards- Walpole of Plantation, and is touted to protect private property rights. It succeeds in doing so, but at the cost of destroying an ancient tradition of unfettered beach access in Florida. Volusia County is unique in its beach access scenario, due to a very old tradition of beach driving. Driving along the beach enables access that is orders of magnitude above what other counties and municipalities enjoy throughout the state, and their situation is about to get even tougher. Under the new bill, access will be decided by legal challenges, which are sure to be costly and the ultimate decisions likely years away. Volusia County government lobbied to protect its customary use ordinances, which have been in effect for decades, and they have succeed for now.

Right out of the gate, this bill reeks of elitist protectionism, as it has no direct benefit to the majority of the public, and only protects the interests of the very wealthy whom own private property along Florida’s beaches. This is an unfair proposition. Since public funds pay to maintain the entire beach, including costly projects like renourishment and trash removal, the public needs to have equal access. In other words, if moneybags wants to have a private beach then he or she needs to pay for its upkeep and maintenance. I doubt that’s a pill many will want to swallow.

While this bill should leave you fuming at our legislature and governor, for now you can rest easy as it doesn’t immediately effect Volusia County. I recommend staking out a spot in front of the biggest beachfront mansion you can find, breaking out the lawn chair and umbrella, and penning a strongly worded letter to our governor – who has a lovely beach house of his own.

Bryon White is a writer, public servant, triathlete, and social entrepreneur. He is a graduate of New Smyrna Beach High School, the University of Central Florida, and Loyola University New Orleans. He resides in New Smyrna Beach with his wife, Megan, a teacher. His articles are featured monthly, and focus on life, art and culture.

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