Judge John: Observations on laws that affect living at the Beaches, ‘keep off the dunes’

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Regularly, Judge John encounters the nicest people standing or sitting on the sand dunes or allowing their children to play on them. It seems so harmless for just one or two people to be on the dunes, but what if everyone did it? The result would be killing the young sea oats, which hold the sand dunes against the sea.

The government spends millions of dollars to keep our sand dunes strong. Why? Because those dunes are what holds back an angry ocean in times of a hurricane or other strong storm. Those sand dunes have saved Judge John’s house and the homes of many of our Beaches’ neighbors. Hurricane Matthew flattened many First Coast sand dunes.

The purpose of the Florida Beach and Shore Preservation Act is to preserve and protect Florida’s beach and dune systems. Chapter 161, Florida Statutes is where the laws are regarding protecting our sand dunes. The Florida Department of Environmental Protection enforces the laws.

Sand Dunes are formed by the tides and the wind. They are held in place by vegetation, like Sea Oats. Judge John will write more on not picking the sea oats next month. Hurricane seas can knock the sand dunes down. But often if the sea oats are mature, the dunes will hold the sea back.

Through years of trial and error, Judge John has developed the following strategy for informing the ignorant and preserving our dunes: “Hi (says Judge John). How are ya? Where are you from?” (The answer is usually far from here) “I figured. May I please ask you to come down off the dunes?” (But why?) “Well, these dunes have saved my home and may other through two hurricanes.” (Oh, really? I didn’t know.) And then if they are among the few who aren’t already moving off “and actually, it’s against the law to be on the dunes.”

There will be a few obstinate people who will argue, but most are just ill informed and all too happy to move to our beautiful beach once they understand the role of the Sand Dunes in our community. I recommend allowing the police deal with the people who will not move. You see, these laws are in effect for a reason, and they are the social contract that we, as citizens, make with each other through our elected government.

Walking on the dunes can end in a $500 citation in some areas, but officers admit that it usually ends in a warning. Authorities say if locals don’t speak up or call police or lifeguards when they see it, then no one will learn. Under state law, public access to the beach begins below the mean high tide line. It is crucial to environmental health that people stay off the dunes. Police departments ask that you call if you see anyone disturbing the sea oats.

Conclusion: Stay off the sand dunes and ask others to do the same. Why? 1. Those sand dunes are protecting our homes and our Beaches community, and sea oats deserve the chance to grow. 2. It’s the law. 3. Beach people need to lead by example.

Do you have any questions of law or custom that are of particular interest to those living the sand life on our beautiful island? Please submit them to Judge John for consideration for a future article to john@rocksolidlaw.com

John Miller is the special magistrate for the City of Neptune Beach. His law firm, Rock Solid Law, focuses on Estate Planning, Real Estate Closings and Title and representing entrepreneurial small business owners. (904) 241-1113.

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