Property Rights Battle Centers on Fight Against Beach Renourishment

Two groups are mounting administrative appeals against beach nourishment plans by the Florida Department of Environmental Protection, Destin and neighboring Walton County.

Al Breithaupt, a Destin property owner and a member of Save Our Beaches Inc., said property rights are at the heart of the issue.

"The City Council in Destin is trying to get control of the beaches, and this is how they're doing it," Breithaupt said.

Save Our Beaches and its Walton counterpart, Stop the Beach Renourishment Inc., each have requested formal administrative hearings that have not yet been scheduled.

The project was to have started by now but will be on hold for months pending the appeal.

It would use $16 million in state and local taxpayer money to add 100 feet of sand to about five miles of beaches along the Gulf of Mexico in Walton and two miles in Destin. DEP officials say the Florida Panhandle beaches are critically eroded.

The argument is over where the current mean high water line is located. Property upland would remain private and the land seaward, including the new sand, would be public. Destin is planning a public hearing on the control line, to be set by the state, once a new survey is completed.

Breithaupt declined to say how many people belong to Save Our Beaches except that it is "a very large number." A lawyer representing both groups declined comment.

Marcia Hubbert, president of the Coral Reef Club Homeowners Association, doubts many people oppose rebuilding the beaches.

"If Mother Nature continues to have its way on our beachfront, they're not going to be on the beachfront," she said. "They'll be under water."

The dispute puzzles DEP Attorney Mark Miller. "We've never had anybody challenge the fact that the state is giving them money," he said. "This is very strange."