Floridians Win Back Right to Recreate on Public Waterway
Floridians have fended off the efforts by a private landowner to convert a public spring and turn it into a private business. Beckton Springs in Washington County has long been a favorite spot for locals to swim, boat, and fish, but a private landowner was trying to turn the spring into a commercial diving operation. Earthjustice legally challenged the plans, and with some difficulty won an important procedural ruling that the development plans had to be approved by the Governor and Cabinet before any permits could be obtained. With a popular uprising underway against the project, the Governor and Cabinet were reluctant to approve the project and the applicant decided to abandon the commercial diving plan.
"This is a victory for every Floridian," said Earthjustice attorney David Guest. "Waters such as Beckton Springs belong to the people, and it's a travesty when one individual seeks to take them away from everyone else."
The owner of the land around Beckton Springs sought to operate a scuba-diving operation in the spring and was seeking a permit to construct a dam across a stream flowing into the spring to enhance his diving operation. The dam would have kept the spring clearer, by keeping stream flow out of the spring, and potentially make scuba diving more popular. The dam also would have impeded public access to a magnificently clear river and spring system that is extensively used for canoeing and swimming. According to Guest, the public was being forbidden from a favorite recreation area for the enhancement of one man's business venture.
"The landowner in this case saw dollar signs; fortunately, this is a case where the system worked and he got stopped," said Guest.
Florida's public waterways in recent years repeatedly have come under attack from private landowners who seek to keep others out. By making ownership claims to navigable waters that run through their land, private landowners seek to prohibit public access to public waters. According to Guest, Beckton Springs is just the latest target for depriving Floridians the right to their waters. When landowners are successful, Floridians are left with barbed wires and iron gates, locked out of their favorite swimming holes and fishing spots, says Guest.
"It's important for the public to be vigilant about defending their rights to these public spaces," said Guest. "Removing the threat to close Beckton Springs is a terrific victory for local citizens and serves as valuable precedent for protecting other waterways across the state."
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