Deerfield And Hillsboro Beaches Will Go To Court Over Sand
The fight over sand between Deerfield and Hillsboro Beaches has gone on for over two years already — and it will continue for at least one more.
During a status hearing between the two municipalities on Wednesday, a Broward judge set a trial date for a year from now. It’s expected to last 10 days at the end of October 2018.
The Town of Hillsboro Beach is suing the City of Deerfield Beach for its “sand groins,” which are large rock piles that are put in place to try and protect a beach from erosion.
Hillsboro’s argument is that Deerfield’s sand groins have blocked sand from naturally flowing onto its beach, directly south of Deerfield’s.
It's unusual for two municipalities to make it this far in the legal process and still end up facing off in a courtroom. Florida Statute 164 — for governmental disputes — requires all municipalities to go through an extensive process of mediation to try and settle instead of going to trial. However, the argument began in 2015 and the two Beaches are past that. They couldn’t reach a settlement.
Deerfield’s attorney, Bill Scherer, said Thursday that the sand groins, which are now piles of rock without their wooden structures, aren’t blocking any sand from getting to Hillsboro’s beach.
“There’s always a river of sand flowing north to south,” he said. “Hillsboro’s sand, if they’re losing any, it’s in their own inlet.”
Scherer explained that the Deerfield structures were permitted back in 1958, and the earliest photos show them fully installed by 1973. Deerfield’s counterclaim to Hillsboro’s lawsuit is that they took Deerfield through the state Statute 164 process in “bad faith” while planning to sue all along.
“We were like, ‘what are you doing?’ There’s no public access to their beaches,” Schemer said. “These things [groins] only help replenish our beaches.”
Scherer said Deerfield and Hillsboro worked together as recently as 2014 to get state funds to re-nourish both beaches. But, Wednesday’s status hearing gave Deerfield what it wanted, specifically 10 days for a trial.
Hillsboro’s attorney, Ken Oertel, said Thursday that, even though trying to have Deerfield’s counterclaim for “bad faith” dismissed didn’t work, the judge wants to revisit the issue later in the case.
“He said he’ll let things stand, so basically nothing changed,” Oertel said about the hearing.
Oertel said that Hillsboro’s side of the argument rests on discovering the conditions for the permits to place those sand groins in the late 1950s,and early 1960s. Hillsboro believes the permit conditions hold Deerfield responsible for any damage that the groins cause to Hillsboro's beach.
“These groins are causing erosion on Hillsboro’s beaches, and Deerfield should have to fix that,” he said. “Hillsboro’s trying to stop the damage these structures are causing.”
Oertel said Hillsboro has spent an estimated $17 million on about 1.3 million cubic yards of sand to replenish what the upstream groins are holding back from flowing down to Hillsboro. The town is still paying off bonds.
“And Deerfield hasn’t had to,” he said.
The next question is whether the argument will be solved in court by a jury or in a non-jury trial. That will be decided closer to the start date next fall.