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Property Bills Could Hurt the Environment

10th Ave South 2.JPG
Courtesy Naples Botanical Garden
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Naples Beach Dunes waiting to be replanted earlier this spring, in order to help mitigate the impact of erosion and rising sea.

As House Bills 421 and 1101 await the Governor’s signature, some in the environmental community are expressing concerns about their effect on the environment. The bills are meant to be an expansion of the Bert Harris act--but it turns out, they do much more.

House Bills 421 and 1101--or the “relief from burdens on real property rights” bills-- authorizes property owners to bring claims against government entities, even if the property owners do not have formal development plans. That might sound good--until you’re a municipality trying to protect citizens from the threat of hurricanes.

"Let's say, the city of Naples passed a regulation prohibiting the construction of anything within a certain number of feet of coastal dunes. Makes sense, in terms of sea level rise and resiliency--you want to have those sand dunes there to protect you from not only sea level rise, but also hurricanes. So great measure, right? But what this bill does is basically, at the time that such an ordinance would be adopted, any property owner, that was along a coastal dune could potentially sue the city of Naples… you're basically looking at bankrupting the city," said Jane West, the Policy and Planning Director for 1000 friends of Florida. She’s also a land use and environmental attorney of 23 years. Her hypothetical example highlights the problems with the bills, and the potentially devastating environmental impact they might have. In another example; say there are mangroves on a piece of property and a local municipality passes a law saying the mangroves need to stay in order to protect the entire community. But the property owner could still sue- regardless of whether they have plans for their property.

West notes Floridians already have the protection of private property rights--some of the most robust in the nation. She says if the Governor really cares about preparing for rising sea levels and climate change mitigation, these bills are contrary to those efforts as it serves as a deterrent for municipalities trying to bolster beachfront against riding oceans and stronger, more frequent hurricanes.

"The governor's policy directive of trying to take care of the environment, concerns about water quality, this bill flies in the face of those efforts," says West.

West says 1000 friends of Florida wants the Governor to veto the bills because, she notes, they would serve as a method of intimidating local governments away from enacting reasonable and responsible land use changes- changes that could protect communities from hurricanes and the rising tides of climate change.