Huckabees join lawsuit over beach’s closure

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Former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee and his wife Janet are among 15 parties in a federal lawsuit claiming they can’t use their “backyards” because of a county government’s order to close Santa Rosa Beach fronting their Gulf Coast mansion. Walton County joined other county governments in Florida in closing sections of beaches along the Gulf and the Atlantic coasts to prevent the spread of the coronavirus after Gov. Ron DeSantis refused to issue statewide orders. Filed in federal district court in Pensacola, the lawsuit seeks a preliminary injunction against the county’s ordinance. The case has been set for a hearing by telephone at 9:30 a.m. Monday before U.S. District Judge Roger Vinson. Huckabee, who served as Arkansas’ governor from 1996 to 2007, was a candidate for the Republican nomination for president in 2008 and 2016. He also is a former host of a talk show on Fox News. Not long after moving to Florida in 2010, the Huckabees bought the Santa Rosa property for $800,000 and built a $2.2 million, 11,188-square-foot home in 2011, the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette has reported, citing county permits. The beachfront property is between Santa Rosa Beach and Grayton Beach State Park, east of Destin, Fla. Huckabee and some of his neighbors have been in property-rights fights over the past couple of years to restrict public access to the beaches fronting their property. Walton County passed the ordinance last week as a public-health emergency, but the Huckabees and their neighbors primarily contend the issue is an unconstitutional “taking” of property without compensation. They also say the ordinance violates their rights to privacy and due process. The request for an injunction said the Walton County sheriff’s office, code enforcement officers and the South Walton Fire District “have been and are currently patrolling and occupying the private beachfront properties” of the plaintiffs. The property owners, according to the lawsuit, are being threatened with fines and jail and are prevented “from being able to use or even set foot in their own backyards,” according to the lawsuit. “The chances of a family or landowner catching or spreading COVID-19 is far less in his or her own backyard (where no one else should be less[SIC] they be trespassing than traveling to the grocery store or hardware store or other essential business,” the lawsuit said. Under Florida law, according to the News Service of Florida, which reported on the property owners’ lawsuit on Tuesday, privately owned beach property generally extends to a point known as the mean high-water line. The lawsuit, though, also points to property owners’ “littoral” rights, or rights of access to the water. DeSantis’ order last week, while directing Floridians to stay at home, also set exemptions for recreational activities such as biking, walking running, fishing and swimming. The county’s order violates the governor’s order allowing for such recreation, according to the lawsuit filed by Huckabee and his neighbors. The stretch of beach fronting Huckabee’s property is called Blue Mountain Beach, because the physical address is along Blue Mountain Road, but otherwise is part of unincorporated Santa Rosa Beach community. A Section on 04/09/2020 Print Headline: Huckabees join suit over beach’s closure