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LAWS
OWNERSHIP OF BEACHES SEAGRAPE TRIMMING LOCAL VEGETATION CODES
THE CCCL LINE MANGROVE TRIMMING  
BEACHFRONT LANDSCAPING FORBIDDEN PLANTS  

The primary purpose of this section is to inform island residents, particularly the new arrivals, of some State, County, and City laws regulating activities that are an integral part of improving one's island habitat. Often such laws are little known because enforcement seldom occurs or is invisible when it does.

Local governments that are almost always operated by political newbies are usually too busy hurrying to dogood by adding to the regulatory glut to be bothered with the task of keeping their changing populace aware of minor pet regulations passed by their predecessors. There are often one or two in each town's code that lie dormant until someone digs one of them up to play gotcha with an unsuspecting neighbor.


RIPARIAN RIGHTS: Who Owns What on the Barrier Island Beaches

Property fronting on navigable waters is delineated differently from landbound property. A waterfront lot line is subject to constant change as sand builds up on or waters recede from the shore. Every time a waterfront lot is surveyed, that line is redrawn to coincide with the "mean high-water line" (MHWL), which is the average location of the edge of the water at high tide measured over a 19 year period. Lands that lie below the MHWL, submerged or not, are sovereignty lands held by the State in trust for public use.

Using the MHWL for the lot line guarantees that a waterfront land owner's access to the water for bathing, fishing, viewing and navigational purposes will not be lost to the normal and natural changes of shorelines. Implicit in this guarantee is the potential benefit of an increase in the size of a waterfront lot when sands accrete or water levels recede and the potential risk of a decrease (or even a total loss) of a lot when shores erode or water levels rise.

When such lands-in-flux front along flowing rivers or streams, the principles which determine their legal usage are called "riparian rights," from the Latin ripa for "bank." In Medieval Latin terra riparia was the land adjacent to a river-bank. On shores of oceans, seas, and lakes they are called "littoral rights," from the Latin litus for "seashore" and its adjective form littoralis. In cases and statutes, however, the term "riparian rights" is widely used for both instances.

Not every change in the MHWL will alter the lot size, as reparian rights apply only to the slow and natural changes that are all but imperceptible as they occur. They do not apply to changes that are sudden or to those caused by beach improvements of riparian owners or the State, because those are actually just additions to or transfers of sovereignty lands. Thus in restoration projects an Erosion Control Line is fixed at the old MHWL. All sands added seaward of the line and future accretions are open to public use. A Florida statute preserves the riparian owners' rights of access, boating, bathing, fishing, and viewing, etc. across renourished areas, but not the right to own future accretions.

Since interference by government with riparian rights could constitute a "taking" in violation of the Fifth Amendment, the State may not add sand landward of the MHWL without obtaining the authority to do so from the owner or by eminent domain proceedings.

Riparian rights also have important implications for the islands' non-riparian owners and visitors who want to enjoy the public waters and shorelines, because they divide the beaches into public and private areas. Although one can only estimate the probable location of the current point at which private property begins, a simple rule-of-thumb is: damp sand at high tide is public and dry sand is private, adjusting the line a little higher in times when the beaches are accreting, or a little lower in times when beaches are eroding.

Where there is no beach, the MHWL is drawn on the outer face of rocks or seawalls that limit encroachment of the water. All parts of such rocks or seawalls landward of the point where the line touches them are private property. Hence walking on a seawall that water touches can be trespass, walking on a narrow beach that emerges by it at low tide cannot.

Though these conventions for defining property along shorelines are well established and accepted, legal and philosophical conflicts persist over the public's rights, if any, to use the dry sand areas of riparian lands.

One side holds that owners of waterfront property have as much right to demand exclusive use of their own land if they so choose as any other property owner has. The other side maintains that an uninterrupted historical use of the beaches by the public can constitute grounds to restrain owners from interfering with continuation of such use. A half dozen different legal theories have been tried in order to establish such a public right, but so far none has proven to be broadly effective. It is not likely that this conflict between two fundamentally opposing philosophical views of property rights will be resolved in the near future.

In the meantime, these divisions on our beaches are tempered by a long-standing tradition of generosity by the beachfront owners toward the use of their riparian land by beachgoers who behave themselves at a respectable distance from the owners' homes. This continues in spite of many unanswered questions about potential owner liability. So far, only misbehavior such as loudness and littering or persistent encroachment into the personal living areas of a riparian owner has ever undermined that generosity by motivating the owner and neighbors to consider re-asserting a claim to the exclusive use of their riparian sands.

In any case, it is in the long-term interest of beachgoers to assume the role of guests when on the dry sand areas of the beaches and to take every opportunity to educate others about riparian rights, thereby contributing to the continuation of that delicate balance of generosity and civility which has proven to be so effective in sustaining the open character of our island shorelines.

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COASTAL CONSTRUCTION CONTROL LINE (CCCL)

The CCCL Program (Section 161.053, Florida Statutes) is a component of the Statewide Beach Management Program enabled by the Florida Beach and Shore Preservation Act, pursuant to Parts I and II of Chapter 161, Florida Statutes. The CCCL is a jurisdictional line that defines the zone along the shores of Florida in which construction is subject to regulation by the Department of Environmental Protection. While the primary concern of the CCCL Program is with building construction activities, landscaping in that zone is also considered construction and can be subject to regulation and permitting.

•  GIS Maps showing the CCCL line on each property along the coast.

This link is to the Interactive Mapping Page in the Regional Coastal Monitoring Data section of the Florida Department of Protection website.

HOW TO USE THE MAP:

(1)  Under Zoom Options select Coastal Counties.

(2)  Select your County from the drop down menu and click the Open Map button.

(3a)  The zoom in button at the top will be active, so click the map where you want to go and click it again on each subsequent screen until you are close enough, or ...

(3b)  To get there faster, drag a tiny red square around the spot you want to see.

(4)  The solid red line on the map is the CCCL. It can be removed by unchecking its box in the frame at the upper left. (The dotted line is the old "Coastal Setback Line").

(5)  To move to another location, select the zoom out button, click the map until you see it, then select the zoom in button again and click the map where you want it to go.

(6)  You can also drag the whole map in any direction with the 'hand' by selecting the pan button.

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BEACHFRONT LANDSCAPING REGULATION

The goals of the DEP's regulations regarding landscaping seaward of the CCCL (see above for its location) are to protect the existing natural structure and grade of dunal systems and the salt-tolerant vegetation on them that is native to the specific location being landscaped. Consequently, no landscaping activity that negatively impacts either of these can be engaged in without a DEP permit.

MINOR ACTIVITY EXEMPTION:

If you just want to plant native dune plants in unvegetated areas of your beach front property and can do it without significantly disturbing the natural grade, without displacing, damaging, or destroying existing natives, and without disturbing a marked turtle nesting site, you may do so without a permit up to 30ft landward of the frontal dune (or forward armoring) .

OTHERWISE:

If you want to remove exotic trees or other vegetation, or you want to rearrange the existing vegetation, or you need to bring vehicles or other machines of any kind onto a dunefield or dune seaward of the CCCL, you must obtain a DEP permit. Most of such activity can be permitted by the DEP Field Agent without any fees with the following procedure:

(1) Prepare a simple drawing showing location and type of work you want to do, a short letter to the FDEP requesting permission, and a survey of the property (not necessarily new). Any plants to be installed must be salt-tolerant species native to the location of dune or dunefield being restored. Click the PLANTS link at the top of any page on this site for a complete list. On the dunes you should select from the "Beaches and Dunes" list. For a dunefield (upland of the dunes) or around your residence, you could additionally incorporate plants from the "Maritime Forest" list.

(2) Send them to the Florida Department of Environmental Protection's regional Field Engineer. In the Southwest Gulf coast region, that would be to FDEP att: Steve West, 1301 Cattleman Rd., Building O, Sarasota, FL34232.

(3) The Field Engineer and/or FDEP will review the plan and the site and issue a letter of permission.

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SEAGRAPE TRIMMING REGULATION

•  FDEP Seagrape Trimming Guidelines to Benefit Nesting Turtles

This link will download the guidelines brochure in PDF format. This brochure focuses on siting and maintaining seagrapes to help block night lighting that can distract the marine turtle hatchlings emerging from their nest in the beach sand, thus luring them away from the sea to a certain death.

•  Text of the 1997 DEP Seagrape and Saw Palmetto Pruning Guidelines

This link is to a page on this site containing a copy of the guidelines for complying with State seagrape pruning regulations seaward of the Coastal Construction Control Line.

And from the Florida Statutes:

161.242  Harvesting of sea oats and sea grapes prohibited; possession prima facie evidence of violation.--

(1)  The purpose of this section is to protect the beaches and shores of the state from erosion by preserving natural vegetative cover to bind the sand.

(2)  It is unlawful for any purpose to cut, harvest, remove, or eradicate any of the grass commonly known as sea oats or Uniola paniculata and Coccolobis uvifera commonly known as sea grapes from any public land or from any private land without consent of the owner of such land or person having lawful possession thereof. Possession of either Uniola paniculata or Coccolobis uvifera by other than the owner of such land shall constitute prima facie evidence of violation of this section. However, licensed, certified nurserymen who grow any of the native plants listed in this section from seeds or by vegetative propagation are specifically permitted to sell these commercially grown plants and shall not be in violation of this section of the law if they do so, as it is the intent of the law to preserve and encourage the growth of these native plants which are rapidly disappearing from the state.

[EDITOR'S NOTE: Since the DEP's jurisdiction begins at the CCCL their regulation of Sea oats and Seagrapes does not apply landward of that line. And seaward owners should interpret the phrase "without consent of the owner" with caution, as it only enables maintenance those plants and other beach vegetation within the DEP's narrow guidelines. Any activity that would endanger the life of any beach vegetation could constitute a construction activity without a permit. See BEACHFRONT LANDSCAPING REGULATION above].

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MANGROVE TRIMMING REGULATION

•  Text of the 1996 Mangrove Trimming and Preservation Act

This link is to a page on this site containing a copy of the act.

•  FDEP Permit Application Form to Trim Mangroves

This link will download an actual application form in PDF format.

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