Private Gulf-front land owners: "Don't come on my property"

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WALTON COUNTY, Fla. (WJHG/WECP) - Now that State Bill 631 has taken effect reversing Walton County's customary use ordinance, 18 private gulf-front property owners are demanding county officials stop services on their property or face arrest.

"Our county is at war," said Walton County resident Laurie Reichenbach.

"It wasn't long after we started getting these e-mails from attorneys representing beachfront owners demanding that we do not come across their property to collect the garbage on the beach that we have been collecting since 1989," Walton County Commission Chairman Bill Chapman said.

That's garbage from the property owners themselves or from beachgoers. Receptacles are often not accessible unless crews cross onto private property.

"I can't understand why you wouldn't want trash cleaned off your beach but if they've made that decision I guess they've made it," said resident Bill Fletcher.

Officials said this handful of owners will now create a bigger mess, forcing their decisions onto their neighbors.

"The thing that it's going to impact is we may have a section of the beach that there is no issue with, going to get their garbage," Chapman pointed out.

"This is one of the unintentional consequences I'm sure nobody thought about," resident Bob Brooke stated.

For decades, Walton County has been providing this service to homeowners for free using taxpayer dollars.

"The reason it's been going on for 20 years without much opposition is because it is a very valuable service. It's a very efficient service," Beach Operations Director Brian Kellenberger said.

Kellenberger said that last year 72,000 bags of trash were removed from the beach from 148 collection sites. He said if this service stops, almost 30 percent of that trash will be left on the beach.

"The garbage is piling up even with the pickup current," Reichenbach said.

"The law, in my opinion, I don't think that the people who presented the bill in Tallahassee fully understood the ramifications of what they were doing," Chapman added.

Walton County Beach Management isn't the only department feeling the pushback from gulf-front property owners.

Walton County Sheriff Michael Adkinson said his office has also received several cease and desist orders when it comes to emergency vehicles patrolling the beach.

"You know, there is a big difference from what you can do and should do. We're going to do what's in the best interest of the public," he explained. "[I] certainly understand that from a private property point, they are, if it is private property, and that is the state of the law now, it's their legal right to say that but I will not allow that to interfere with saving peoples' lives and I do believe no private property owner would want that. This is really more about a legal approach, a legal strategy and trying to outline their property rights."

Sheriff Adkinson says his department will continue doing their best to serve the public under the new law.