The Beach and the Bench: The Supreme Court Decision
FORT MYERS - The U.S. Supreme Court handed down a long-awaited decision in a significant coastal case on June 17, with its ruling in favor of the state of Florida in a case involving a local beach restoration project in Walton County:
What did the Supreme Court decide?
The case was brought by a group of property owners in the Florida Panhandle who claimed a beach restoration project turned their beachfront lots into beachview lots, thanks to the state law making any restored beach land seaward of the existing boundary between private and state land (typically the pre-project high tide line) into public lands. The high court affirmed the decision by the state Supreme Court supporting the state law in ruling against the owners, essentially saying the state was adding to submerged land it already owned to make it into a dry beach.
What impact will it have on my beach?
If you live in Florida, it means state and local government won't have to pay beachfront owners for any loss in value or use (a "taking," in the parlance-an action depriving a person of private real or imagined personal property without just compensation) when a beach restoration project is done-a move which could have seriously eroded the state's sand-loss fight to a halt due to the increased project costs from such payments. If you live in a state whose coastal boundary laws are based on a principle similar to Florida's, it may mean the court precedent could short-circuit any legal challenges to those laws.
What does this mean for future beach renourishment regulations?
Mostly, nothing-save for a likely sigh of relief from coastal officials. Taking the potential of compensation off the table while affirming existing state coastal law was a major win for Florida-and for states with similar systems.
What've been reactions to this ruling?
"This unanimous decision affirms the Florida Supreme Court's conclusion that…implementation of the erosion control program and beach nourishment provides a significant level of storm protection benefits for upland properties and infrastructure, restores the recreational beach, and achieves a reasonable balance of public and private interest in the shore." -Mike Sole, secretary of the Florida Department of Environmental Protection, which was a defendant in the case.
"We are disappointed that the Supreme Court did not vindicate the rights of the Florida property owners. However, at least four justices did put all courts on notice that judges are subject to the Fifth Amendment just as much as any other government official." -Jim Burling, litigation director for the Pacific Legal Foundation, which supported the property owners as a friend of the court.
"While the case before the court was technically a Florida matter, the results of the case have implications for coastal communities nationwide. The American Shore & Beach Preservation Association (ASBPA) is dedicated to the efforts of our members in Florida and elsewhere who are working hard to maintain, protect and enhance the coasts of America. We believe the state of Florida was correct in its approach to restoring beaches, and are very happy that the high court agrees." -Mayor Harry Simmons, ASBPA president.