The 3 miles of Highland Beach’s beach has been allowed to become a trash dump of human garbage, a minefield of buried dangerous objects and an environment unfit for both humans and wildlife.
Whenever the town and its attorney were asked about beach cleaning, the answer was virtually all the beach is private, but when asked about the entire town’s use of the beach it was virtually all public. The town has used this philosophy for years to get out of spending any money for beach cleaning.
Some individual beachfront property owners have hired tractor cleaning companies while others have done nothing or very little to maintain both their private property and the state-owned beach.
The tractor companies sign a five-page beach cleaning field permit with the Department of Environmental Protection to operate on the beach, stating that they remove everything down to a cigarette butt.
Some of the DEP requirements in the permit are: removal of all accumulated debris from the beach after cleaning; no burial or storage of debris seaward of any frontal dune; no ruts formed on the beach; 10-foot clearance of dune vegetation by equipment; no more than 2 inches penetration into the beach surface; and no blades used. There are additional regulations for turtle season.
The town is working on an ordinance to mirror these regulations, since it has neglected providing any control to date. DEP issues these permits with little oversight and no enforcement.
The tractor companies sign the DEP beach cleaning permit, advertise the work and bill their customers for beach cleaning — while never cleaning anything, other than picking up items the size of a log or pallet that are too big to bury.
It is impossible for them to comply with any of the above permit requirements since the town has not provided contractors or residents any vehicle beach access. All the above rules are impossible to perform and make the beach look like it has been cleaned by raking and burying.
They are in violation of the DEP regulations every minute they are on the beach and now will be in violation of the town’s new ordinance.
Since nearly all of the debris lands on the state portion of the beach before it is dragged up into the soft private property sand by the tractors, or eventually washed or blown up on private property, the town should be responsible for properly maintaining the state (public) portion of the beach.
The only way to have a clean, healthy, environmentally safe and natural beach is by manual removal of the man-made trash, leaving the weed line — “an important food source for beach and near-shore food chains,” according to the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission.
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