On July 1, more than 100 people braved heat, humidity, and showers to draw attention to a new law that could, scratch that, will negatively affect Walton County’s economy. My fellow walkers, supported by scores of people with cold water and refreshments, trudged from Topsail State Park and Preserve to the west and Camp Helen in the east to a Red Bar rendezvous. We were carrying on the centuries-old tradition of peacefully enjoying the beach.
Overlooked in the property rights debate is the fact people can have an easement on someone else’s property. A prescriptive easement is the right to use property, acquired by open and obvious use, without the owner’s permission. The timeframe required varies from state to state. As an example, one of my neighbors had for years used a trail on my property to access his property. Patience is an under-appreciated virtue. After a lender foreclosed on his property, we closed the easement. But if the new owner needs to cross my land, there would be no problems because I may need to cross theirs one day.
Other than the usual suspects, few property owners had private beach signs displayed, but it’s early. Don’t pop celebratory champagne corks. A local property owner filed a lawsuit in federal court that could affect the public’s right to recreational use of all America’s beaches. As the Supreme Court turns more conservative, it is reasonable to assume the court becoming less sympathetic to public rights versus individual property rights.
Bob Dylan noted you don’t need a weatherman to know which way the wind blows. Similarly, you don’t need a Wharton School of Business degree to see beach privatization wrecking South Walton’s tourism/real estate industry. While Walton County has miles of state-owned beaches, going there is not the same as walking, biking or driving to the nearest access. The value of non-beachfront property will drop due to lower rental demand. No one will drive 10 hours, pay a hefty fee and not be able to use the beach they walked on last year. In Econ 101 you learn about the multiplier effect of dollars percolating through an economy. It works in reverse, too.
We don’t know who will be arrested for trespassing under the new law, but it won’t be me; I own gulf-front property. Outside of when the grandkids visit we go to the beach early in the morning or late in the evening when the crowds disappear. Not only will this new law damage the local economy it will change our area’s vibe. Imagine the visuals of tourists being arrested or threatened with arrest. South Walton may not have the world’s best beaches, but it does not take long to call the roll. Despite warts, it’s a nice place to live, and with some luck, we can keep it that way.
You can’t always get what you want, but Buz Livingston, CFP can help figure out what you need. For specific recommendations, visit livingstonfinancial.net or come by the office in Redfish Village, 2050 Scenic 30A, M-1 Suite 230.