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FL - Locked Gates, $5 Parking and Sand Control Mark Recent Oceanfront Beach-Access Dispute in Palm Beach

Any discussion of public beach access ought to include an acknowledgement of who pays for the sand.

This gets glossed over far too often.

For example, take the recent dustup in Palm Beach over a quasi-public swath of oceanfront beach in an eight-block stretch north of The Breakers hotel. There had been three public entrances to the beach and free public parking on this stretch between Sunset Avenue and Wells Road.

You can’t blame beachgoers for showing up, especially when the town’s effort to stop out-of-town beachgoers at its main beach was the installation of $5-per-hour parking meters.

During the stir-crazy COVID-19 period we’re in, beachgoers began showing up in numbers large enough to prompt a reaction from the oceanfront homeowners there. They installed white posts in the sand that read “private beach no trespassing” and leaned on the town council, getting locks on the access gates and parking meters where the free parking had been.

“Who owns the beach in Florida?” is a question that has many answers. You can start with the Florida Constitution and the common-law public trust doctrine, which established that all beaches up to the mean high water mark are public.

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