from the editor

Soggy Bottoms

Is the 'customary use' beach bill all wet?


Be careful where you set up that beach volleyball net after July 1, Floridians. On that Sunday, a law goes into effect that may allow the millionaires on the other side of the dunes to kick us plebes off their sand.

At first blush, the 18-page bill passed by those geniuses in the legislature and ratified by that friend of the people in the governor's mans seems rather mundane. It puts the onus on local governments to prove that the public has the right to frolic on the "dry sand," the area between the dune line and the high tide line. By suing them. Yes, indeedily do. 'Cause local governments are soooo inclined to sue some of their wealthiest residents.

Couching the bill in soft-focus, 'we're protecting property rights' terms, the legislature has snatched away rights the public has enjoyed since our state's founding and long before-to A.D. 530, when Roman Emperor Flavius Justinianus (a truly superb rap name) ordered the codification of the laws of the land. The very first item in the second book, Of Things, reads, "By the law of nature these things are common to mankind: the air, running water, the sea, and consequently the shores of the sea." It defines the seashore as extending "as far as the greatest winter flood runs up."

Hence was born customary use law, which in present form affords the public the right to use property that doesn't belong to us or our government, if the use is "ancient, reasonable, without interruption and free from dispute." That's how come you can paddle and splash Ginnie Springs to your heart's content, why those subsistence fishers upon whom you gaze longingly on your commute can drop a line in to feed their families, and the surfers who provide us equal parts eye-candy and entertainment can share the waves with pelican and Jim Alabiso alike.

More than 1,500 years later, our representatives have decided that the Frisbee and sunbathing and makeout sessions that so spoil the views of the Mike Huckabees and Rick Scotts of the world should be restricted well below the greatest winter flood mark, to the hard-pack below the tide line; well, not the full moon, summer solstice high-tide line, but the "mean" high-tide line. So feel free to park your butt somewhere below or above the most recent high-tide line, depending on moon cycle and season.

Hm. But if you're off by a foot or so, John Grisham might call the cops on ya, so if you're not in the mood to get arrested or ticketed for trespassing, I suggest using that The Zac Brown Band song as your guidepost and make sure you can "put your toes in the water" wherever you and the other peasants in your cohort (like me) post up for sun and fun by the seashore. Just keep a lookout that the drink doesn't carry your kids or cooler away.

For real though, I get it. If I spent a coupla mil on a prime piece of oceanfront pie, it might be a trifle annoying to be forced to share it with every Tom, Dick and hairy back or cringe tourist who wanders by. What's the point of being super-rich if you can't buy access and limit others from the same, amiright?

There's just one teensy, eensy thing: When I bought that scrumptious desert-esque dessert abutting the sea, I was effectively put on notice that although I own the beach to the tide line, I can't exclude the public from using it as they have done from A.D. 530 until July 1, 2018.

It's very curious that the legislature has elected to take our rights by claiming that they're giving us rights. Though I guess it's technically true that they're giving rights to those members of the public who own oceanfront lots (read: the donor class), but they're doing it by taking sovereignty from our local governments and putting an additional task to the courts that, mind you, have plenty to do adjudicating all the crimes and causes of action on their dockets.

Recognizing this BS for what it is, Nassau County is asking residents and nonresidents to help them establish "customary and historic use of the dry sand areas" in unincorporated parts of the county, which is a precondition to protecting the rights of losers like me who don't have oceanfront digs. The county's website has links to affidavits to provide evidence of such use, including documents, photographs and statements. The deadline is Wednesday, June 20. St. Johns County's customary use municipal ordinance, one of three in the state and one of two grandfathered in by this legislation, protects beachgoers from this boneheaded, anti-American nonsense. Duval County, it seems, is currently content to keep its head in the sand. We'll see how long that lasts after the neighbors call the cops on the picnic.

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