Making A Stand In The Sand [Update: Customary Use Workshop Oct 19, 2016]

September 30, 2016 by Dave Rauschkolb

It is important to be good neighbors. Sharing the resources we hold dear in all of Florida – and where I live, in South Walton County – is critical to the well-being of our citizens, visitors and economic interests.

It appears that South Walton County could become Florida’s ground zero in the private beach vs. customary use conflict. In the past few years, a handful of beachfront homeowners has grown into a coordinated group determined to claim the sand behind their homes as private. This group wishes to allow no use of the “private” dry sandy areas for the public to participate in customary recreational activities. They are placing “No Trespassing” signs, ropes and chains across the beaches.

Update 9/30/16 from Tom McGee
The Walton County Commission will hold a public workshop on the public’s uses of the beaches of Walton County on Wednesday October 19, 2016 at 4PM. The workshop will be held at the South Walton Annex. This important issue affects all of us who call Walton County home and our visitors, who are the backbone of our economy. Anyone who can contribute evidence of the historical uses by the public of our beaches should plan to attend. Evidence can include personal experiences, photos, and documents such as newspaper accounts. Prior to attending the workshop, persons wishing to testify or produce other evidence should contact Assistant County Attorney Sidney Noyes at 892-8110. If you or anyone you know of can provide good evidence and photos or documents, please call Sidney Noyes and help establish that all of our beaches have always been used by the public in customary ways. More Info >>

All the beaches of South Walton and Florida have been uninterrupted in their human use for many centuries. A doctrine of “Customary Use” gives all of us reasonable access and enjoyment on private and public beaches.

In deference to beachfront homeowners, I agree that certain unsavory activities that may occur on the beaches behind their homes must and should be regulated. Those regulations – exercised with appropriate action by law enforcement – should be all the insurance beachfront homeowners need to ensure peaceable, customary beach activities behind their homes anywhere on Florida’s beaches. In Walton County there is a Beach Activities Ordinance in place that already addresses this.

I challenge the Florida Legislature and the governor to work to together and finally adopt a law guaranteeing Customary Use for all Florida’s citizens and visitors. It is clearly the right thing to do and far, far overdue.

Customary use, which is the law of the sand in Hawaii, Oregon and Texas, grants permanent public access based on ancient, peaceful, uninterrupted and reasonable use of the beach by the public. One would hope Florida could adopt a similar law.

It is critical that the sandy areas of Florida’s beaches are open for all to enjoy; our tourist driven economy is dependent on this perception and reality. Any threat to our beach access and use is a threat to our local and statewide tourism driven economy. As a business owner in South Walton County for over 30 years, I take that threat very seriously.

I encourage the handful of beachfront homeowners who are pushing to limit access to our beaches to save their money and stand down. South Walton and Florida residents and visitors will never allow our beaches to have limited access and use.

Until a few years ago this was never an issue, and people enjoyed every grain of sand on our beaches without intimidation. I am sure most people feel strongly enough about defending our right to enjoy Florida’s beaches to see this fight all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court if necessary.

Let us come together and stop fighting over the sand, and go back to enjoying the beaches with our families and friends as we always have.

Dave Rauschkolb is a beach lover, and property and business owner in Walton County.

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