Bradenton's beaches aren't going private.
Because of efforts to control erosion, parts of Anna Maria Island that have been renourished aren't affected by a new state law.
Yet confusion has muddled the meaning of "Possession of Real Property," the new law that dictates how governments can establish customary use. In this case, if "an activity has continued for a long time without interruption," such as beach bums parking their chairs on dry sand, then there is legal standing for such an activity to continue, according to a memo from the Florida Shore and Beach Preservation Association.
The law, which goes into effect July 1, "prohibits a governmental entity from adopting or keeping in effect an ordinance or rule establishing customary use of privately owned dry sand areas," the memo reads.
But if a government wants to establish this, it will have to essentially file a complaint against the landowner and have a judge decide whether customary use applies.
Only St. Johns and Volusia counties established ordinances prior to HB 631's cutoff date of Jan. 1, 2016. Walton County's ordinance was created in October 2016 and wasn't grandfathered in.
The issue began with Walton County creating an ordinance saying that the public's use of dry sandy areas was protected, after some beachfront homeowners started staking out the beach they thought was theirs with "no trespassing" signs. More beachfront homeowners sued, and lost, but have appealed. Groups such as the Surfrider Foundation support Walton County's ordinance.
But the public has a right to access the beach seaward of the mean high water line, said Diana Ferguson, a lawyer with Tallahassee-based firm Rutledge Ecenia who wrote the bill summary for the association. In a general sense, that means where the sand is wet.
"The bill does not privatize any beaches that were previously public," she said. Ferguson added that "whether customary use exists has always been a judicial determination."
Manatee County doesn't have a customary use ordinance. But one thing that trumps this new law? Erosion control lines.
These lines are established when governments participate in the statewide beach management program, which renourishes beaches affected by erosion. An erosion control line, the farthest point landward that new sand has been brought in, essentially supersedes the mean high water line.
The Gulf of Mexico shores of Anna Maria Island and Longboat Key are listed by the Florida Department of Environmental Protection as "critically eroded beaches." Statewide, 229 miles of beaches have been renourished.
This includes about 80 percent of Anna Maria Island, excluding the northern tip of Bean Point, and 100 percent of Longboat Key. Renourishment projects also protect public access points to those beaches.
"(We) do not anticipate an impact from this law on Longboat Key," Tom Harmer, Longboat Key town manager, wrote in an email to the Bradenton Herald.