Saturday, January 28, 2012
Florida's Water Into Land
For much of Florida's modern history, developers have been turning water into land — draining and filling swamps and marshes to build subdivisions and shopping centers.
Now the Florida Legislature seems ready to try a new trick: turning public waters into private lands.
What legally defines public and private ownership along thousands of miles of navigable rivers and lakes in Florida is something called the “ordinary high water” mark. Basically it means that all land that's submerged during the “high water season” is sovereign and accessible to the public.
Pending legislation would change the definition to set the “ordinary high water” mark much lower. In effect, it would turn thousands of acres of what are now submerged public lands over to adjacent private property owners.
“This legislation could lead to barbed wire and ‘no trespassing' signs keeping Florida kayakers, canoeists, boaters, birdwatchers, hunters and sports fishermen away from their favorite places at the edge of our lakes and rivers,” warns the Florida Audubon Society.
The legislation, HB 1103 and SB 1362, is being pushed by agricultural interests and large property owners who stand to see their holdings increase under a lower water mark definition.
Not surprisingly, opposing the measure are hunters, fishermen, hikers, boaters and others who enjoy Florida's rivers and lakes.
“Boaters could be arrested for standing on the shore fishing,” Charles Pattison, of 1,000 Friends of
Florida, told the Tampa Bay Times. “Hunters could get arrested for hunting in marshes that are dry in the low water season.”
Florida's definition of the “ordinary high water” mark that separates public from private lands has stood legal muster for decades. Lawmakers who now want to turn public waters into private lands do a disservice to Floridians who want access to their state's greatest natural treasures.