A homeowner’s rights on navigable rivers

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By Pierce Kelley

 S. P. of Archer asks, “I was canoeing down the Santa Fe River last weekend and I came upon a dock that extended a good 30 feet or so out into the river. It has a big waterslide and a double-decker platform. It was huge. Can the owner do that? It seemed to me that it was way too big and could cause a problem for boaters, like me, if a motor boat came speeding along as I was going by. Is that legal?

Dear S. P.,

Your question is a good one, and it involves a much bigger issue than the size of a dock, really, and that is the issue of water rights in general. Some say water will soon be more valuable than oil.

To answer your question I had to conduct some legal research and I found a 1909 case out of the Florida Supreme Court which states that a person who owns land bordering on navigable waters has, among other rights, the right to:

“…erect upon the bed and shores adjacent to his riparian holdings bath houses, wharves, or other structures to facilitate his business or pleasure, but those privileges are subject to the rights of the public and are to be enforced by proper public authority…”  see Ferry Pass vs. White’s River Association, 48 So. 2d 643 (Fla, 1909)

The proper public authority in the state of Florida is Florida’s Game and Fresh Water Fish Commission (FWC). The Army Corps of Engineers and Florida’s Department of Environmental Protection (FDEP) also have authority over the subject.

Thus, the homeowner in question had the right to erect the structure and, presumably, he sought and received permission to do so. If a homeowner goes too far, and encroaches upon the rights of the public to the use and enjoyment of the river, actions can be taken to modify or correct any transgressions by any of those governmental agencies. In this case, it would appear that the homeowner has not encroached too far into the Santa Fe, or else the government would have stepped in to correct the situation.

I have answered your question, S.P., and I hope you found it to be useful information. You now know to whom your concerns should be addressed.

Any readers with specific legal questions for this “Ask a Lawyer” column are invited to submit those questions to the Editor of this newspaper who will pass it along to the attorney. If you need assistance with a consumer matter, such as an unfair and deceptive collection practice, or garnishment of wages, a mortgage foreclosure or other such things, and you cannot afford an attorney, call the Legal Services office closest to you, which provides free legal assistance to qualified individuals, or call the Florida Bar Referral service at 1-800-342-8011. I wish you good luck in obtaining access to our legal system, no matter what your income and asset level might be. 

The foregoing was written by attorney Pierce Kelley, who is a member of the Florida Bar Association. The contents reflect his personal opinions and beliefs.