Deerfield Beach and Hillsboro Beach are advancing in their court battle over — what else — the beach.
A Broward Circuit judge last week dismissed motions filed by Hillsboro Beach, which argued its beach is critically eroded because rock piles in neighboring Deerfield Beach to the north are capturing sand that would normally flow its way.
“There’s hardly any beach there,” said Hillsboro Beach attorney Kenneth Oertel of Oertel, Fernandez, Bryant & Atkinson in Tallahassee. “I was there a few days ago, and the beach has washed away. There’s hardly any left.”
Hillsboro Beach is challenging its neighbor’s compliance with a state permit that addresses when erosion requires the adjustment of the 1960s rock structures called groins.
“The littoral drift in this area along the East Coast is from north to south,” Oertel said.
Deerfield Beach claims removal of the rock piles would erode its own public beach. Besides, Hillsboro Beach’s three-mile private oceanfront stretch is doing just fine, attorneys argue.
“The photographs that we presented in court show that their beach is being renourished by Mother Nature significantly over the past two years,” said Deerfield Beach attorney Bill Scherer of Conrad & Scherer in Fort Lauderdale. “We think the lawsuit is frivolous, shouldn’t have been brought and was brought in bad faith.”
The case is heading toward trial in October 2018 after Broward Circuit Judge David Haimes dismissed Hillsboro Beach’s motions to strike affirmative defenses and dismiss a counterclaim. He declined to rule on a motion to strike a demand for a jury trial, saying he’ll make the call later on.
Haimes also didn’t address Hillsboro Beach’s decision to bring the action “standing in the shoes” of the state, which granted the permit. But he said he accepted the argument that the counterclaim properly asks for a declaration of Deerfield Beach’s rights.
“I think it’s appropriate to seek a declaration of rights in this situation,” Haimes said at an Oct. 25 hearing.
The dispute has been going on since 2015, surviving two public hearings and a failed mediation before Hillsboro Beach filed a lawsuit in April. Florida designated a 3.2-mile stretch including south Deerfield Beach and all of Hillsboro Beach as “critically eroded,” according to a 2016 report.
The two municipalities used to work together to combat erosion, Scherer said. In decades past, Deerfield Beach agreed to modify rock piles and let its neighbor use its public access to bring sand to the private beach. But things changed.
“They had no intention to settle with us at all,” Scherer said. “We presume that their motives are to try to get some kind of reimbursement for sand renourishment that they can’t get because they don’t have public access.”
But Oertel said the fact that Hillsboro Beach has trucked in 1.3 million cubic yards of sand since the 1970s “speaks for itself.” The town received some state money through interlocal agreements with Deerfield Beach, but it has also spent millions of its own dollars on anti-erosion work, Oertel said.
“We just want them to fix the damage they’re causing,” Oertel said. “I don’t know what they mean by private beach. The beach is the beach. Private or public, they should fix it. It’s really simple.”
Scherer is joined by Albert Frevola and Jessica Kopas of his firm.
Oertel is joined by Timothy Perry of his firm and William Spencer and Cindy Laquidara of Akerman in Fort Lauderdale.