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Bill Could Turn Public Water Access Private

A new bill could trigger the loss of tens of thousands of acres of state-owned sovereign submerged lands at the edge of rivers, lakes and streams by changing the definition of “ordinary high water mark,” says Audubon of Florida. As most hunters and fishermen know, the ordinary high water mark specifies the boundary of state-owned lands.

The bill in question, House Bill 1103 (Ordinary High-Water Mark for Navigable, Nontidal Water bodies) was added to the Agriculture & Natural Resources Subcommittee agenda on Thursday, January 12, 2012.

By lowering the high water mark, the ability of private interests to claim these sensitive areas for their own use greatly increases. This could be in the form of private residences or private businesses. In addition to conflicting Florida case law, these actions would result in a loss in environmental protection, a significant loss of revenue from lease fees, and could result in diminished public access to Florida's waterways. An identical bill has been sponsored in the Senate as S.B. 1362.

If this bill passes, hunters and fishermen could see a significant loss in public access to Florida's waterways. The Florida Wildlife Federation and Earth Justice environmental law firm compiled key consequences to HB 1103.

The bill would:

•Change the boundary of lakes, rivers and streams from the ordinary high water line to the low water line

•Be a giveaway of 500,000 acres of shores and littoral marshes from state ownership to big landowners

•Thwart Everglades restoration as marshes on rivers and lakes filter out fertilizer and other pollutants that are destroying the River of Grass

•Allow the shore of all rivers and lakes to become private property

If all rivers and lakes became private property, boaters could be arrested for getting out of their vessel and stepping on the shore, for standing on the shore fishing, for picnicking on the shore, or for camping on the shore. Fishermen could get arrested for taking their boats past the low water line during the high water season. Even hunters could get arrested for hunting in marshes that are dry in the low water season.

House Bill 1103 would validate bogus swamp deeds from the 1800s that Supreme Court decisions for the past 100 years have held do not affect state-owned water bottoms. Once the bill gives the land away to big landowners, it would not be possible to get it back without buying it for billions of dollars. Every governor in the past 50 years has stopped these efforts to give away state water bottoms.

Florida Sportsman members have already started a discussion, asking members to email representatives and explain why they oppose the bill. Join the thread.

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