I’m happy to announce that we won the latest legal skirmish in our 23-year quest to keep one of South Florida’s wildest waterways open to the public.
On July 5, an administrative law judge in Tallahassee upheld the public’s right to boat, fish and picnic on the wonderful Fisheating Creek in Glades County, south of Lake Okeechobee. That right was imperiled by agribusiness giant Lykes Brothers, which owns most of the land on both sides of the creek. Lykes planned to provide the state with 3,300 truckloads of free sand, and had proposed that the state use the sand to close off the creek to ordinary folks.
No matter that the bottoms of Florida’s water bodies – so-called “submerged lands” – legally belong to the public. The Florida Department of Environmental Protection is now rejecting the proposal to use $3 million worth of taxpayer money to build roads through wetlands to truck in the sand and fill a two-mile-stretch of Fisheating Creek, which would have permanently blocked the public’s navigation channel.
When news of this crazy scheme surfaced last fall, we represented two citizens groups, Save Our Creeks and the Environmental Confederation of Southwest Florida, in a challenge to the DEP permit. The judge has now decided in our favor.
We’ve been fighting to keep public access on Fisheating Creek since 1989, when Lykes felled cypress trees across the creek’s navigation channel and posted “No Trespassing” signs, claiming that the creek was not navigable. After several rounds of litigation by conservationists and the state, a jury concluded that Fisheating Creek is navigable. That effectively ordered Lykes to stop blocking boaters from using the creek.
I truly hope Lykes will get the message now that Fisheating Creek, like the other waterways in the state, belongs to the public.
“You go out there and it looks like you’re in ‘National Geographic.’ It’s gorgeous!,” Alisa Coe, the attorney in our Florida office who handled the case, told the Public News Service after the ruling. “And it’s really important that we remember who these rivers belong to – that’s the people of the state.”