DESTIN — Photos of people parking their Jeeps on the beach near Destin’s East Pass sparked outrage on social media Thursday, but authorities say the cars had a right to be there.
The photos, which Destin City Councilwoman Prebble Ramswell posted on her public Facebook page Thursday night, show three Jeeps parked right on the water near Norriego Point, facing East Pass and right next to the east jetty. Ramswell said it appeared the people had driven from the gated Destin Pointe neighborhood and down onto the shoreline to watch the fireworks at Destin Harbor.
“I think first I was shocked that someone would have such disregard for the beach and the environment,” Ramswell said Friday morning. “But then I quickly turned to being very angry. Anyone that lives here knows that you don’t drive on the beach, and then when you factor in all the environmental concerns that we have, it’s just an utter disregard for the rules and for the environment.”
Okaloosa County ordinance 16-45 restricts driving on public beaches, with the exception of sheriff’s deputies and county employees on official business. A City of Destin ordinance prohibits cars other than emergency and public safety vehicles on beaches, though it doesn't specify public or private.
However, according to the Okaloosa County Sheriff’s Office and Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, units who responded to several complaints about the Jeeps on the beach said they contacted the vehicles's owners and determined they were on a private portion beach, meaning no laws were violated.
“An FWC officer responded to the scene and made contact with the individuals,” Bekah Nelson, spokeswoman for the FWC, said in an email to the Daily News. “The officer did not issue a citation. It was determined that the individuals were on private property.”
According to call history records from the Sheriff's Office, deputies also were called to the scene and met the owners about 20 minutes after the first call came in. They determined developer Peter Bos owned the land and the people in the Jeeps “have a right to be out there, per them.
“No need to respond to further calls about the Jeeps,” the report said.
Bos told the Daily News on Friday that he owns the company that owns the beach, and it was he and his friends who were there with their cars Thursday night.
“This is not the first time, it’s probably the 50th time” that he and his friends drove on the beach, Bos said. “We go down there to watch the sunsets on the beach.
“It’s our property and we’re allowed to drive on it,” he added. “So if you’re outraged with your neighbor parking on his lot, then I guess you can be outraged about this. They would like to wish that my land was public or owned by them, but they don’t (own it). I own it.”
Marcie Bell, a Destin resident who took one of the photos, said she was shocked when she saw the cars because the area is known to have had sea turtle nests in the past.
“It made me feel the owners of those three vehicles are not good stewards of Destin’s natural resources,” she said. “Specifically, the sea turtles nesting along our beaches.”
Bos says the sea turtles aren’t known to nest there.
“The sea turtles don’t nest in the current of the pass, that’s a well-known fact,” he said. “They certainly do nest on the beach but they can’t swim back and forth, that’s not a nesting area, and even the Sheriff’s Office was aware of that.”