“Sun, sand and surf” used to be synonymous with life in the Sunshine State for tourists and residents alike. These days, it would be more accurate to say, “sun, some sand, and surf.”
In Walton County, a convergence of tourists, a handful of fed-up and deep-pocketed beachfront homeowners, and “dirty politics” have created a tense scenario that could soon ripple across our state and all of coastal America.
National media have already taken notice of HB 631 which, in layman’s terms, says non-beachfront property owners are only entitled to traverse or set up for a day at the beach in that sand seaward of the mean high-tide line, a 19-year average that’s about as clear as mud to the average Joe.
Essentially, you can only walk or park in wet sand — which obviously leaves little to no room for fun.
“Hey, kid, get off my lawn!” has been replaced with,
“Hey, kid, get off my dry sand!”
A record 116 million tourists visited Florida in 2017, followed by a record 33.2 million in the first quarter of 2018, a 7.4 percent year-over-year increase. According to the 2017 Walton County Tourist Development Commission’s Annual Report, four million of those tourists left behind $4.4 billion in Walton County alone, accounting for 73 percent of all retail sales and generating 65 percent of all local taxes. More than 22,000 jobs in Walton are tourism-based. Suffice to say, the county’s economy (like the entire state) is overwhelmingly fueled by tourism.
But July 1, 2018 – when HB 631 went into effect — may go down in history as the beginning of the end for Florida’s beachbound tourism.
Beachfront homeowners argue their property rights are being infringed upon. "Customary Use" backers argue the beaches have been open for recreational activity for literally thousands of years.
Meanwhile, Gov. Rick Scott further confused the issue when he recently announced Florida’s beaches were open to all … but failed to clarify he meant Florida’s public beaches, not those beaches that are the crux of the issue. Our state representative publicly admitted at a Town Hall two weeks ago that HB 631 became law through “dirty politics.”
Just what constitutes a public and private beach is the question at hand.
Lawsuits are flying. “No Trespassing” signs mar the beach. Security guards patrol where people once freely roamed. Tempers are flaring and the Walton County Sheriff finds himself in a no-win situation when trying to address confrontations on the 26 miles of white sands the area has long been known for.
Meanwhile word is getting out across America, and you can bet folks are considering alternative destinations for their next beach vacation.
That goose and her golden egg? Yeah, she may have just left the building. It’s time to draw a line in the sand and say enough is enough.
Repeal HB 631 and let Walton County — and all of Florida — continue to be one of the world’s pre-eminent tourist destinations.