27 South Beach Oceanfront Property Owners are Holding Out on the Sector 7 Beach and Dune Restoration Project, Vero Beach, FL.

Indian River County is seeking to obtain “perpetual” beach easements (Beach Management and Assessment Easement) from 90% of the property owners between Treasure Coast subdivision in the north and Floralton Beach subdivision in the south, for the county to begin their Sector 7 District Five beach nourishment project.  The easement would allow access on the homeowner’s sandy portion of the beach, stopping at the vegetation line or sea wall.

27 property owners have not signed the lease, which does not meet the 90% requirement.

Under the “perpetual,” never ending agreement, for $ 1.00, the homeowner, would grant Indian River County “a right-of-way in, on, over and across” their beachfront property “for use by the Board of County Commissioners…to…rehabilitate…a public beach and dune system and other erosion control and storm damage reduction measures.”

The easement would allow the County to “temporarily store and remove equipment and supplies; to erect and remove ‘Temporary structures’…does not include buildings of any kind…”

The County retains the right to construct one or more dune crossovers…”

All areas within the Easement Premises disturbed by the [County]…in accomplishing the within-stated purpose will be restored to a state comparable to that which existed at the time of construction.  Wouldn’t “at the time of construction” be when the beach restoration project began? 

Without an executed perpetual easement, the County cannot place any beach sand on the homeowner’s beach. 

The South Beach Property Owners Association (SBPOA), established 33 years ago, a civic watchdog organization extending from the 17th Street Bridge to St. Lucie County, has recommended its members not to sign the easement.  

It argues that the easement and right of way would provide no monetary compensation, recourse, and legal liability protection in the case of construction accidents or malpractice, as well as the lack of an ombudsman to receive complaints on construction impacts such as noise, blowing sand, cleanup; in general, affecting their quiet enjoyment rights.

The March 2, 2023, issue of Vero Beach 32963 reported that three-year non-beachfront Sandpointe resident Doug Demuth, at a February 21 County Commission “proposed a change in the project area.  If the sand replenishment could begin south of Smugglers Cove, just south of the properties that have currently declined permits of not responded, 83% of homes from that point to the Moorings have agreed to the easements, he said – and Demuth thinks a few more are reachable.”

Demuth was in essence is calling for the County to engage in after the fact geographical gerrymandering and tally alteration.

Why does the easement have to be perpetual? 

In an email obtained by the SBPOA, dated September 8, 2020, Deputy County Attorney Bill DeBraal wrote to a property owner that Staff is sticking to its goal of receiving perpetual easements rather than periodic easements or easements for a certain project.  The reason behind this goal is fairly straightforward. Every time the County wants to do a specific beach renourishment project it must receive permits from the Florida Department of Environmental Protection and the Army Corps of Engineers. These project-based permits take months to prepare and are expensive due to the amount of input that must be provided by outside consultants, engineers, surveyors, and County staff members, to name a few.

The County is trying to supply the same service of beach renourishment free to beach front owners while at the same time saving significant taxpayer dollars.”

Regarding cost-sharing for each beach projectAttorney DeBraal also indicated “the County competes against other beachfront counties and cities for State and Federal cost-share dollars when renourishment projects are needed.” Though, he also indicated, if the County had “perpetual beach easements in hand, it helps the County’s application rank higher.”

On its part, the County is assuring homeowners “that there’s no desire or intention on the part of Indian River County to change anything about the beachfront you enjoy or the ways you enjoy it.”  

In an email obtained by SBPOA, County Commission Chairman Joe Earman wrote to property owners in Vero Beach indicating there is a “need for us to work together as a community to renourish our beaches in a coordinated fashion, with the assistance of the state and federal government entities.” 

In Vero Beach 32963 he was asking property owners to look at the big picture.  “We’re just saying, ’Hey, sign this easement and you will never have to worry about us again.  We’re not going to put an umbrella stand up on your beach and have some iced tea and sit there.”

Without 90% or more executed easements the project is not able to be constructed due to sand volume and other variables.

Taking all the risks and factors into account it would appear the 27 homeowners have a strong case to not give away their property.

As an aside, according to Draft County Environmental Assessment “several threatened or endangered species inhabit the Section 7 Project area.  The beaches provide nesting habitat for a least three species of turtles: loggerhead, green and leatherback.  Three other threatened or endangered species may potentially occur…the least turn, the piping plover, and the Southeastern beach mouse.”  

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