WALTON COUNTY, Fla. (WMBB) — Customary use is no more on Walton County beaches.
Approximately 39 beach property owners settled in a lawsuit with county commissioners meaning the public can have limited use of a 20-foot transitory zone. The more than 1,100 other private properties are completely private.
At a Sept. 21 town hall meeting, Sheriff Michael Adkinson met with residents to explain what deputies will be doing about the new beach rules.
“If you come out of the red(public beach access), you’re standing on private property. When you have a public area for beach access and then say, ‘Don’t step here, don’t step there’. That’s problematic,” said Adkinson.
The lawsuit settlement requires a study to show exactly how much beach space each parcel owns to determine where the private section will start. Some properties own to the waterline, some may only own a couple of feet from the back door.
Adkinson suggested that the county add paid beach ambassadors that can help guide beachgoers to public beach access and try to diffuse situations with private beach owners.
If a deputy is then called to the scene, Adkinson said they will try to lead with education unless an arrest or citation is warranted.
“We’re not going to walk out on people and say, you’re under arrest for trespassing. We’re just not going to do that. We’re going to be very thoughtful, trying to educate somebody, trying to use customer service, and try and hopefully give them a bottle of water and help them move if that’s what it takes,” said Adkinson.
Adkinson said he also asks for body cameras on all ambassadors to train and learn from situations as they arise.
These new rules only apply to properties east of Tops’L State Park. To the west are renourished beaches that are open to the public.
Private property owners will have protocols to follow in order to remove someone from the property. The county will spell out those details at a later time.
The sheriff’s office had 60 to 90 days to come up with a policy to enforce these new rules. The sheriff said this policy is ready, but there are still steps that need to be taken by the board of county commissioners before education or enforcement will begin.