Who owns the beach?

A dispute over a slice of Sunset Beach could have implications for the entire state.

click to enlarge THIS SAND IS MINE: Tony Amico, owner of Caddy’s on the Beach. - Shanna Gillette
Shanna Gillette
THIS SAND IS MINE: Tony Amico, owner of Caddy’s on the Beach.

By the time the men had started frantically shoveling wet beach sand into small yellow bags, Debby had already eaten a good chunk of the beach that skirts Caddy’s on the Beach, the storied waterfront bar. It was clear the water was on its way up, and once it got there, it would want in.

Sunset Beach, the lush, charming Treasure Island neighborhood that’s home to Caddy’s, was not new to this type of tumult. Like any Gulf beach, it’s seen more than its share of storm systems packing a wallop.

But Sunset Beach has lately seen a different type of tumult — a scrum of lawyers and dollars — that some say could have an historic impact: a battle over the stretch of sand that skirts Caddy’s on the Beach.

Caddy’s owner Tony Amico says that the beach belongs to him, fair and square. He says the state — by way of the Board of Trustees of the Internal Improvement Trust Fund of the State of Florida — handed it over to him in a 2009 settlement. Quitclaim deeds signed by former Governor Charlie Crist and his cabinet, which constituted the board of trustees, seem to hand all rights to the beachfront property — including the beach — to Amico’s Gulf Sands Properties, LLC.

A Florida Department of Environmental Protection letter, dated June 1, 2012, begged to differ. Dubbed the “Dougherty Letter” after the name of its author, FDEP Deputy Secretary of Land and Recreation Al Dougherty, it reads: “To the extent that there is dry land waterward of the nine lots conveyed, the Board of Trustees claims ownership to that land for the benefit and use of the public.”

The letter goes on to ask Amico to “remove any signs that are prohibiting the public’s use of this portion of the beach.”

Amico isn’t having it. He says the matter isn’t up to FDEP; that the Board of Trustees is the sole authority on this.

“That’s the only body that has the right to give up property,” he says.

So he’s suing the state.

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