LETTER TO THE EDITOR: Fences don’t always make good neighbors

November 5, 2021
By Boca Beacon Reader

To the Editor:

The article entitled, “… and now there’s a fence …” in the Boca Beacon dated October 22 caught my interest, if not my ire. 

Fences do not make good neighbors. Fences, without permits in this case, are an issue. Fences that extend into the water, regardless of the arbitrary high water line, are an “in your face” insult. The beach at the southern point of Gasparilla Island has been enjoyed for years by the public for “ancient, peaceful use.” 

In July of 2018, Florida passed a statute that said that the land between the high water mark (the line established by the average tides over a 19-year period) and the surf along the waters of the Gulf and Atlantic, are public lands for the use and enjoyment of the citizens. The boundary between a private beachfront property and the public beach then, is the high-water mark. 

It goes on to say that if the high water mark is surveyed and accepted by the Governor and the members of the Cabinet, then it will be designated as an ECL or Erosion Control Line. Once established then, the ECL supercedes the mean high water mark as the dividing line between public and private beach. This line therefore can and will change with storms that affect the amount of sand drawn from or deposited onto the beach. It further states that recreational use of the sandy area on the land side of the mean high-water mark should not be interfered with by the owner.  

There is, therefore, in my opinion, nothing that should prevent the public from using the Hill Tide Estate area as they have for eons. 

In Nantucket this summer a homeowner, well known to the community as a bullish tyrant, tried the same thing in front of his home. He erected a fence to the water line covered with signs that indicated that anyone crossing his property would be charged with trespassing.  He also, day in and day out, sat on his deck watching for people challenging his dictum.  One morning, preparing for a day on our boat, I saw that there was a two foot sand path between the end of his fence and the water.  I walked it picking up scallop shells. He confronted me, told me to leave his property immediately, and proceeded to lecture me about the laws on the books for Massachusetts and Maine beaches. I was familiar with this archaic law, dating from the 1600’s. These laws, unlike any other state laws, state that the public may use tidelands for three purposes-fishing, fowling, and navigation.  

As he lectured me I told him I was simply gathering a few shells for my grandaughter and her friend who were standing near me, and that I would finish momentarily. He was relentless. I told him that I was not afraid of him. At this point, very enraged, he pushed me twice. There is  now a court case as I charged him with assault. 

It is worth noting that Massachusetts Senator Julian Cyr and Congressman Dylan Fernandes are now pushing hard to add the word “recreation” to the existing law in Massachusetts as stated above.  Hopefully it will go through. When it does, all beaches will be open to the public. Having said that, Nantucket throughout the years has worked very hard to maintain beach access for all, incuding in many cases, the ability to drive on them. 

I would not like to see what happened to me this summer become an issue for anyone at Hill Tide or anywhere else on the island. We have public beaches here and public parking to give us access to those beaches. And although you have to look hard to find public access to beaches on our parallel roads to Gasparilla Road, they are there.  Parking can be an issue. 

These high and low water marks are, of course, very arbitrary depending on changing tides and storm erosion. Add to that climate change and rising sea levels. These lines can change daily.

When we camped with our children near the beach, our mantra was “leave the beach even cleaner than you found it.” Respecting that our space is shared by all, we must be responsible for helping maintain this privilege for the generations that follow. 

Boots Tolsdorf

Nantucket, Mass., 

Boca Grande