A federal judge in Florida says oceanfront property owners in Walton County can’t use their beaches.
U.S. District Court Judge Roger Vinson of the Northern District of Florida denied an emergency motion on Monday that would have allowed former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee and about a dozen other beachfront owners near Pensacola to use their beaches despite a county order that closed all public and private beaches to combat the coronavirus.
Arguments were heard by phone before the judge rendered his decision.
Huckabee and other beachfront property owners along the Gulf of Mexico in Walton County sued last week after the county closed the beaches in an effort to stop the spread of coronavirus.
Their complaint stated that county officials and officials from the local sheriff’s office have been patrolling and occupying their private properties threatening them with $500 fines and jail time for using the beach.
The lawsuit states residents have been unable to “use or even set foot in their own backyards.”
The plaintiffs asked that the court declare the county's decision to close private beaches unconstitutional and to award them "just compensation" for the temporary use of their properties by the county.
The complaint said that the plaintiffs have been following the federal government’s social distancing guidelines and have never had more than 10 people together at a time.
The decision by the county, they said, “would force family members into a confined space within a house rather than allow them to social distance and recreate in their sandy backyard. Or it forces them to public locations to recreate potentially closer to many other persons that may have COVID-19.”
According to The Walton Sun, Vinson said, “Public beach on the Gulf of Mexico is not defined by legal ownership, but by what is the beach.”
“To anyone looking at the beach, sometimes you can’t tell where the beach really ends. Where does the beach end? That is the gray area I think we are really concerned with,” he said.
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