ANALYSIS: Beach bills appear to preserve Escambia, but not Santa Rosa public access

By Deborah Nelson/photo copyright Deborah Nelson

It’s not clear if proposed Federal legislation to convert local beach leaseholds to fee simple title protects public access to Santa Rosa beaches.  The bills outline a preservation requirement that only   references areas currently reserved for conservation in Escambia County. The verbiage appears to leave future preservation decisions on the Santa Rosa side up to Santa Rosa’s Commission.

The U.S. House approved a measure to convert beach leases to title in both counties, H.R. 2370, July 26.  The Senate version, S 1073, sponsored by Senator Marco Rubio, is currently under review by the Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources.

Both versions contain a paragraph g [emphasis added], titled “PRESERVATION” that states:

“As a condition of the grant of the authority to convey the non-Federal land under sub-19 section (a), the County [emphasis added] shall preserve in perpetuity the areas of the non-Federal land that, as of the date of enactment of this Act, are dedicated for conservation, preservation, public recreation access, and public parking, in accordance with any resolutions of the Board of Commissioners of the County.”

Both bills state, under Section 2 (“Definitions”), that “The term ‘‘County’’ means Escambia County, Florida.” [emphasis added]

Both bills would give Escambia County two years to transfer Santa Rosa’s portion of the land over.

Upon taking ownership, the bills state that Santa Rosa County:

(A) shall assume ownership of the non-Federal land free of the restrictions on the non-Federal land described in subsection (g) [emphasis added]; and (B) may establish any lawful restrictions on, or criteria for the reconveyance of, the non-Federal land to any leaseholder of the non-Federal land.

District 1 House Representative Matt Gaetz, who sponsored the House bill, said in a July 27 press release that the measure “stipulates that the non-federal areas of Santa Rosa Island dedicated for conservation, preservation, public access, and parking will all be preserved in perpetuity.”

Gaetz’ statement does not specify whether “Santa Rosa Island” refers to Escambia, Santa Rosa, or both counties

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