Supreme Court Upholds Beach Decision

Supreme Court late last month handed down a landmark decision in a case
involving beach replenishment efforts in Florida that could have had
implications in Maryland.

While Ocean City
recently received good news about an influx of federal funding for the
replenishment of its beaches and dune system in the wake of a devastating
coastal storm last fall, a decision handed down in late June by the U.S.
Supreme Court on a similar project in Florida might have provided a rosier
outcome for beach replenishment projects in the future.

At issue is whether
Florida’s beach replenishment program constituted an illegal “judicial taking”
of private waterfront property. Coastal property owners in Florida, under the
umbrella of a group named Stop Beach Nourishment, filed suit in 2005
challenging the Florida Department of Environmental Protection’s beach
replenishment program, alleging the pumping of sand onto the beach in front of
their properties created a new public beach and deprived them of their rights
to the private beaches they enjoyed in front of their homes.

The Florida Supreme
Court last year heard the case and upheld the state’s beach replenishment law,
ruling against the property owners. The property owners contended the creation
of new beachfront areas in front of private property amounted to an illegal
taking of the owner’s rights without compensation in what has become a
quasi-eminent domain case. Last August, the affected property owners appealed
to the U.S. Supreme Court and the high court agreed to take up the case. Late
last month, the Supreme Court ruled the beach replenishment projects in Florida
did not constitute a taking of beachfront property, essentially ruling the public
good outweighed any perceived infringement on the property owner’s rights.

Although the
circumstances of the Florida case are certainly different than other coastal
areas, including Ocean City, the fundamental principle remained the same, which
is why officials in resort towns all over the county were keeping a close eye
on its progress.

Florida’s beach
replenishment program, like Ocean City’s, pumps sand onto beaches eroded by
hurricanes and other storms in an effort to save them for environmental and
economic reasons, including protecting the very waterfront properties whose
owners challenged the practice. If the U.S. Supreme Court had ruled in favor of
property owners, the result could have implications on other communities that
currently have beach replenishment programs in place.