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Supreme Court hears arguments in Florida beach property case

Florida took up a seven-mile-long beach restoration project, and some beach property owners say it violates their rights. On Wednesday, a lawyer for waterfront landowners encountered both skepticism and support at the Supreme Court.

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In this Nov. 24 photo, a notice is posted on the beach at Gulf Islands National Seashore, Fla. The Florida Supreme Court will hear argument on Wednesday on whether a nearly seven-mile stretch of beach in the Florida Panhandle is public or private after the state poured sand on eroding shores.

Melissa Nelson/AP

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A lawyer for waterfront landowners encountered both skepticism and support at the US Supreme Court on Wednesday while urging the justices to wade into a long-running dispute over the effect of erosion-control efforts on seaside property rights in Florida.

At issue in the hour-long oral argument was whether a ruling by the Florida Supreme Court had so significantly changed the substance of Florida property law as to amount to a public taking of private property without payment of just compensation.

Tallahassee lawyer D. Kent Safriet told the justices that Florida's highest court "redefined" the essence of littoral property rights in the state. The court, he said, ruled for the first time that owners of waterfront property enjoy no constitutionally protected right to have their waterfront property actually be in contact with water.

The Florida Supreme Court determined that the essential right for waterfront property owners was access to the water, not physical contact with it, explained Florida Solicitor General Scott Makar.

The position prompted a response from Justice Antonin Scalia. "It would be very strange to have a principle that all a littoral owner gets is a right to access the water, not a right to be on the water," he said.

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