“We want the property owner to enjoy what they've purchased, but we also want visitors to come to our area to continue to enjoy what they've been using for years and years and years.”

A Customary Use Ordinance adopted in October of 2016 provided Walton County deputies a valuable tool to use in mediating a growing number of confrontations between beachgoers and coastal private property owners, according to Sheriff Mike Adkinson.

“We’ve been able to take a broader, common sense approach to resolving issues,” Adkinson said. “From an owner’s standpoint, we’re more quickly able to address issues by saying ‘customary use doesn’t allow for this type of behavior regardless.’ Since it passed, we haven’t had anybody calling and saying, ‘I want these people trespassed.’ ”

Customary use doctrine in Walton County states that the county’s beaches have been accessed by the public for as long as mankind has walked upon them and therefore some portion of that beach should remain available to the public.

County officials spent a great deal of money on research to arrive at the findings that gave them the basis for establishing their ordinance, according to County Administrator Larry Jones.

The ordinance helps delineate, among other things, what is or isn't considered public property. It gives Walton County Sheriff's Office deputies a set of rules and the authority to enforce them.

But the ordinance was quickly challenged in court by private homeowners who maintain that they paid a lot of money for beachfront property and their rights are being violated by the county allowing people to use what is theirs for their recreational pleasure.

“What people don't seem to understand is this is our home,” Ed Goodwin, one of the beach homeowners suing the county, has said. “People don't have the right to enter our property without permission.”

This year some Florida lawmakers waded into the customary use battle on the side of the homeowners.

State Rep. Katie Edwards-Walpole pushed legislation that would essentially leave it up to county officials to prove, on a case by case basis, that its customary uses ordinance was valid.

The bill would have left Walton County potentially being forced to file a lawsuit against every beachfront property owner along 26 miles of coastline, and prove its case for customary use access to their property, according to Holly Parker of the Surfrider Foundation, based in Tallahassee.

“The Florida Legislature is attempting to take away local beach access ordinances,” Parker’s group said in a news release. “If the legislature were to take away local governments’ home rule authority to protect customary use rights, it would negatively affect tourism and the economy at the state and local levels.”

Late this week, with the support of state Rep. Brad Drake, R-Eucheeanna, and Sen. George Gainer, R-Panama City, who represent Walton County in their respective chambers, a compromise was reached that removed some of Edwards-Walpole’s language local officials found most offensive.

Under the compromise, Walton County and the two other Florida counties with customary use ordinances in place will be required to prove the validity of their ordinances, but won’t have to do so on a case by case basis, according to Drake.

“The compromise language requires the county to go to court and show them our findings and say ‘would you decide we've proven customary use,’ ” Walton County Adniministrator Larry Jones said.

The compromise, Jones said, was just about all Walton County could hope to ask for — that and to keep state elected officials from attempting to supersede local ordinances.

“One of our big arguments was that this should be a judicial decision, not a legislative one,” he said.

For Walton County businessman Dave Raushkolb, the state effort to regulate at the county level was downright offensive.

“I think it’s awful that the Florida Legislature would consider taking away a county’s decision on an issue that greatly affects the well being of that county. The beaches of Walton County are the engine of the economy,” he said.

Drake said the compromise deal, which still has to be passed by the House and Senate, and then signed by the governor — all before the Florida Legislature adjourns at the end of next week — can put the customary use ordinance issue, at least on the legislative end of government, to rest.

“I hope we reached a reasonable solution for everyone,” he said. “We want the property owner to enjoy what they’ve purchased, but we also want visitors to come to our area to continue to enjoy what they’ve been using for years and years and years.”