Will The Critical Wildlife Area Be Wiped Out?

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Beachfront property owners Eddie Rood and Kurt Kroemer, who’ve been asking the town to permit a dune walkover, for access to the beach from their properties, have filed a lawsuit against the state of Florida challenging the state’s claim of ownership of the property behind their homes.

The suit will confirm whether the property owners own the accreted land that has formed behind their properties over the last twenty years. Should they win the lawsuit, the current CWA borders might be dissolved and the land could become private property.

Rood and Kroemer tell Beach Talk Radio News, “Through this entire process, we have tried to keep the question of land ownership out of the legal discussions and we have had no desire to own the accreted upland property behind our homes, however, the town has now forced the issue.”

The homeowners say there were discussions with the Department of Environmental Protection early on in the State permitting process concerning their desire to own the accreted land and that both sides agreed there was no reason to upset the work of the FWC or change any boundaries to the CWA.

They have said their only interest was to regain beach access from their properties. Kroemer and Rood had communicated to town council, that ownership of the accreted land would be the next step in the process if Kroemer and Rood’s offer to settle the dispute over the walkover was declined.

When there’s a dispute over the ownership of land, a “Quiet Title” suit is the legal process used to resolve the conflict. On Oct. 1st, 2020, a lawsuit was filed in the 20th District Court of Lee County by Kroemer and Rood. The next step is for a judge to hear from both sides. No date has been set for that hearing as of yet.

Rood says the laws surrounding riparian rights of accretion are pretty clear. “Through our research over the past few years, our attorneys have discovered various FDEP documents which indicate the FDEP has concerns about their ability to defend the state’s ownership of the accreted land if the ownership is challenged in court. We shared some of this information with members of the current town council. Mayor Murphy took the time to contact the FDEP’s council, who confirmed that our information is accurate. The Mayor in turn attempted to convey the FDEP’s message to the other council members at a special meeting last June in an attempt to head off the ownership challenge and possible loss of the CWA, but it fell on deaf ears”.

Rood goes on to say that he and his attorney’s are confident they own the land behind their beachfront homes. “We are sorry it has come to this. We love the CWA and it is important to us also, after all, it is our backyard. The Town is jeopardizing the very thing they sought to protect just to stop a project that helps an entire neighborhood.”

Rood and Kroemer say they had direct beach access but lost it over time to the growing CWA and the fact that their neighbor blocked off access from behind his home when he discovered he actually owned land that people were using as a cut-through to the beach.

The Fort Myers Beach Local Planning Agency approved the Dune Walkover unanimously when it came before them. Jim Atterholt and Dan Allers, now town council members, were on the LPA at the time. Atterholt, Bill Veach and Rexann Hosafros are against granting a special exception to Rood and Kroemer. Allers and Mayor Ray Murphy are in favor of granting it with part of their reasoning being that they do not want to see the CWA dissolved.

One of the reasons councilman Atterholt has decided now not to grant the dune walkover is because he’s been told by town attorney John Herin that the town has a good case in the Bert Harris lawsuit.

It appears as if we’re all about to find out.

You can read the entire 307 page lawsuit filing HERE

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