Judge launches legal action to block beach access on private property

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A Walton County circuit judge has dismissed a constitutional challenge to “customary use,” a concept that has long allowed the public to use portions of privately owned beaches.

Judge David W.Green released a 10-page ruling on Monday that rejected arguments by Northshore Holdings, LLC and Lavin Family Development, LLC, which own properties along the Gulf of Mexico and argued that customary use violates state and federal constitutions. The Florida Constitution guarantees public access to portions of beaches “below mean high water lines”, often described as beach wetlands.

But customary use is for dry sand areas of beaches above the mean high water mark which are often private.

Green pointed to a 1974 Florida Supreme Court opinion that allowed the public to use these beach areas. He wrote that he was “not authorized to enter judgment declaring unconstitutional the doctrine of customary use as established by the Supreme Court of Florida as a violation of the prohibitions against appropriating property without just compensation. or without due process”.

Walton County has been part of a series of legal battles over beach access, at least in part sparked by a controversial 2018 state law that imposes restrictions on customary use. David Theriaquea Walton County attorney, released a statement Tuesday that said Green’s decision “is an important step in keeping Walton County beaches free and accessible to residents and guests.”

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