Taking a Stand in the Sand
On June 4th Dave Rauschkolb, along with other local activists, descended upon the beaches of South Walton to “take a stand in the sand.” This was in protest of beachfront property owners claiming exclusive rights to the dry sand portions of the beach by placing no trespassing signs and obstructing its use by the general public. The morning started out with a darkened sky punctuated with a cacophony of thunder and lightening, serving as a perfect metaphor of the battle over Walton County’s “Law of the Sand.” Rauschkolb and various supporters walked 14 miles that day from Camp Helen State Park to Grayton Beach State Park in defense of the public’s customary use of the beaches.
In Florida some beachfront property owners have private property rights to most of the dry sand portion of the beach. On the other hand, the Florida Supreme Court has ruled in The City of Daytona Beach v. Tona-Rama, Inc., that beach areas used openly and freely by the public for at least 20 years, (customary use), cannot be subsequently made off limits by private property owners.
This is where it seems clear that South Walton has a point. As Dave explained, “Up until a few years ago, anyone and everyone in South Walton enjoyed customary use of the beaches. We walked, played, and set up chairs on any area of the dry sand without being harassed. As more and more tourists arrived, this issue heated up, and some beachfront homeowners got frustrated with the activities happening behind their homes. The community beach walk held in June was a perfect and peaceful example of ‘customary use’. From what I am hearing, there are a lot of people who agree with me. The walk on the beach was merely a confirmation that all areas of the dry sand, both private and public property, should be available for use by any person.”
Rauschkolb went on to express his hope that Walton County Commissioners “stand firm” and “not be intimidated by potential beachfront homeowner litigation.”
The Walton County Commissioners seem to agree. In April the Walton County Commission hired land-use attorney David Theriaque to research beach-use data to determine whether Walton County can claim “customary use”. Theriaque estimates his work will be completed in early Fall. In June, the Commissioners voted to ban all signage on the beach – setting up a potential conflict with beachfront property owners. Notifications were sent by the TDC Code Enforcement Department to beachfront property owners informing them that as of July 15, 2016 “unlawful obstructions on the beach, including but not limited to: ropes, chains, signs or fences, are subject to citations. The civil penalty is up to $500.00 per violation.”
Rauschkolb says, “One of the main concerns is the lack of consistent and solid enforcement of the Beach Activities Ordinance. Both the sign ordinance and the issue of customary use will eventually be settled in the courts. But in the meantime people should feel empowered to use the beaches as they always have. For now, no person should have the right to stop anyone from accessing the dry sand. Do we really want to see a future in Walton County where legions of tax paying citizens and freely spending tourists will be marched up to the Sheriff’s substation and booked for ‘trespassing’ on the beach?”
“The last thing we need,” says Rauschkolb, “is for a protracted legal battle over the sand of Walton County’s beaches. It will damage our reputation as being a welcoming community and certainly damage essential and important economic interests. We simply cannot afford it.”