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Get the latest coverage of the 2021 Florida legislative session in Tallahassee from our coverage partners and WUSF.

Property Bills Could Potentially Hurt Florida's Environment

Courtesy: Naples Botanical Garden
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 Gov. Ron DeSantis' signature, some in the environmental community are expressing concerns about their effect on the environment.

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," said Jane West, the Policy and Planning Director for 1000 Friends of Florida and a land use and environmental attorney of 23 years.

"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."

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 Gov. Ron DeSantis 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 DeSantis 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.

Copyright 2021 WGCU

Valerie Vande Panne
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