Private beach closure sparks lawsuit in Walton County

Health

WALTON COUNTY, Fla. (WMBB) — Less than one week after the Walton County Commission passed an ordinance amending beach closures to include private beaches, beachfront property owners have filed a lawsuit against the county. 

Over a dozen Walton County beachfront property owners, including former Governor of Arkansas and presidential candidate, Mike Huckabee, are arguing that they should be able to use their own backyard.

“My clients felt that the county’s actions were extremely discriminatory,” said Kent Safriet, an attorney representing the property owners. Safriet said his clients feel that their constitutional rights have been violated with this ordinance, citing the fourth and fifth amendments. 

“If my clients step on the beach, they’ll be arrested,” said Safriet. “They’ve been told that. Property cannot be subject to illegal search and seizure and here the Sheriff’s Office as well as the county have seized our client’s properties.”

He also said that his clients also feel that the ordinance encourages congregations on the sidewalk along Highway 30A instead of appropriate use of the beach.

Safriet said his clients feel that the ordinance promotes congregating on the sidewalk along Highway 30A, providing images like this in the lawsuit affidavit.

The lawsuit names both the county commission and Sheriff Michael Adkinson as defendants, since the Walton County Sheriff’s Office patrols the beaches, both public and private.

Sheriff Adkinson said although he does understand the property owners’ side of the argument, he’s just doing his job by enforcing the ordinance.

“I don’t get the luxury of looking at a law and saying ‘I don’t like it, I think I won’t do this one,’” he said. 

He added that the lawsuit is not coming at a good time.

“This lawsuit is not the most important thing going on in our life,” said Adkinson. “However it’s taken up most of yesterday and part of today for me. We’ll have to prepare legal defenses.”

The Walton County Commission is unable to provide any statements regarding pending litigation.

Safriet said that for his clients, the goal of the lawsuit isn’t money, it’s action.

“Right now my clients want to immediately use their beach and their backyard during these stay-at-home orders,” he said. 

However, if that goal is not reached, he said his clients may request financial compensation for public use of private lands, as long as the Sheriff’s Office and other public officials continue to patrol their properties.


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