The recent passage pf HB 631 has created questions about who owns the beach. Property ownership along the beach in Pinellas County can be complicated, and in many cases, portions of the upland are either owned by the State of Florida, protected by environmental regulations, or open to the public by virtue of other rules or agreements.
The state generally owns the beach up the mean high water line (MHWL) or the Erosion Control Line (ECL) if one has been set. The ECL replaces the MHWL as the State/private property boundary line and usually (though not always) mirrors the original, pre-nourishment MHWL.
What is the ECL? On all nourished beaches in Florida, an Erosion Control Line (ECL) has been established pursuant to 161.191 Florida Statutes which states:
In many cases, the ECL is located on the most landward edge of beach next to the seawall or within the dune system. The approximate location of the ECL on Pinellas County beaches can be found here.
All Pinellas County barrier island municipalities have ordinances regulating activities on the beach. Further, the State has rules governing activities seaward of the Coastal Construction Control Line (CCCL). The CCCL regulates structures and actions that can cause beach erosion, destabilize dunes, damage upland properties, or interfere with public access. Its approximate location can be viewed here.
Beach property owners seeking to install a fence or signage or make any other changes to the upland beach seaward of the CCCL should first check with their local barrier island government. Then, a permit from the Florida Department of Environmental Protection (FDEP) will be needed for any work or construction seaward of the CCCL. Fencing on the beach, for example, could entangle sea turtles and result in violations of Federal and State law, including but not limited to the Endangered Species Act (16 U.S. Code § 1531 et seq.) and Marine Turtle Protection Act (Florida Statutes § 379.2431). Permitting guidance can be found here.