HOLMES BEACH -- A Holmes Beach resident has been given 15 days to schedule a meeting with state officials after an inspection concluded that he paid for the illegal cutting of sea grapes along the beach.
On May 4, Holmes Beach police were called out to the 4300 block of Second Avenue in Holmes Beach to reports that state-protected sea grape trees near a beach access had been illegally cut. When detective Sgt. Brian Hall arrived, he found Sunset Tree Trimming loading up the branches onto their truck and learned that Jose Vivero, a resident who lives across the street, had hired them to do the trimming.
The Holmes Beach police investigation resulted in a request sent to the State Attorney's Office to charge Vivero with trespassing.
On May 22, the Florida Department of Environmental Protection sent the resident's attorney a compliance assistance offer letter, giving him 15 days to set a conference call "in order to discuss recommended corrective actions
moving forward in order to resolve this matter."
Corrective actions will have to be taken in coordination with the city, according to the recommendations. Attached to the letter was a copy of the FDEP's compliance inspection, the police report and FDEP's sea grape tree trimming guidelines.
The guidelines require a department permit unless the trimming does not exceed reducing the leaf mass or height by more than one-third and does not result in the tree being reduced to less than 6 feet tall.
"The cutting that occurred exceeded the allowable criteria for a department exemption. In addition, since this cutting occurred on city property, a department permit would not have been issued without specific approval from the city," according to investigator Jim Martinello.
Calls to Vivero's attorney were not immediately returned.
Assistant State Attorney Charles Near has been assigned to review the case.
"It is still an open, pending investigation," said his supervisor, Assistant State Attorney Heather Doyle, the chief of the state attorney's misdemeanor division. "No filing decisions have been made."
Police say the FDEP has been in contact with the State Attorney's Office, but Doyle said she could not comment any further.
If Vivero fails to respond within 15 days and set up a conference call, the FDEP will begin formal enforcement proceedings.
Jessica De Leon, Herald law enforcement reporter, can be reached at 941-745-7049. You can follow her on Twitter @JDeLeon1012.