Battle for the Beaches – Your Voice Matters

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By Heather Bennett

The issue of customary use on South Walton beaches has been a point of contention over the last few years. Steps to settle the dispute of public access and public use in Walton County has begun and will continue until a judge rules on the issue.

“People come down at 6 a.m. … set up and take over,” Said Lee Shook, a resident of County Road 30A. “Why in the world do we need this (customary use) if we have all of these beautiful state parks and county parks? That’s what they’re there for.”

Tom Ballantine, a Seagrove Beach condo owner disagreed and showed his support of customary use. “God made the beaches and it’s for all God’s people.”

On Saturday, November 3rd at 9 A.M. the Walton County Board of Commissioners will be holding a second Customary Use hearing at the South Walton High School, 645 Greenway Trail, Santa Rosa Beach. All beachfront property owners are required by law to be notified of the hearing via certified mail and it was brought to the attention of officials that 13 homeowners did not receive the property notification of the first hearing. The second hearing is being held in fairness to those beachfront property owners. However, this also gives Walton County time to gather more evidence proving customary use.

Although the Florida Constitution states the public has the right to access all beaches seaward of the mean high tide line, the areas in question are the dry sand that beach goers and their families have enjoyed year over year. The Florida Supreme Court recognizes customary use where the public’s use of land has proven to be “ancient, reasonable, without interruption and free from dispute.” The county is collecting affidavits to prove people have enjoyed use of South Walton beaches customarily over the last several decades and, evidently, “time immemorial.”

Customary use is also important in protecting the environment and our ecosystem. Without customary use the Tourism Development Council cannot pick up trash on beaches in areas deemed private. Without customary use, people dedicated to safeguarding sea turtle nests cannot do their job if nests are on private property.

If you are in favor of customary use, and have visited South Walton beaches, you are encouraged to fill out and submit a notarized affidavit attesting to your use. If you think your contribution won’t matter, think again. This is where the power in numbers is essential in determining the future of South Walton beaches.

Locals that support customary use have worked diligently to provide easy access to affidavits and notaries. You can pick up affidavits and have them notarized free of charge at the Walton County Planning Department, South Walton Courthouse Annex, 31 Coastal Centre Boulevard, Santa Rosa Beach, Florida, 32459 and the Walton County Attorney’s Office, 161 East Sloss Avenue, DeFuniak Springs, Florida, 32433. Other local businesses in Grayton Beach that have affidavits are 30A Local Realty Office, 35 Clayton Lane and Daniel Uhlfelder Law Offices, 124 E 30A. If you would like to send photos as additional evidence, you can email those to  Submit your notarized affidavits, even if you are out of town, to the Walton County Attorney’s Office before November 3, 2018.

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