Brevard's beachfront property owners collect $3 million in their suit against the government.
After 12 years of litigation, 317 parties got checks from the federal government to help compensate them for beach erosion that resulted from the Army Corps of Engineers' 1954 construction of Port Canaveral Harbor and its jetties. Studies showed the jetties blocked the southerly flow of sand along the shoreline, depleting beaches from the port to Melbourne.
The money comes after a 1999 settlement was reached on the original lawsuit filed in 1992. The settlement led to the $42-million, 12.7-mile beach renourishment project that was completed last year. But it also sparked a series of legal appeals, which resulted in July's $3.1-million payout to property owners.
The amount each property owner received was based on a complex formula that included the erosion rate, how long the owner owned the property, the amount of land involved and the type of property involved. Payments went to 261 individual property owners, 53 businesses and the cities of Cape Canaveral, Satellite Beach and Cocoa Beach.
The 1992 lawsuit came after studies showed the Port Canaveral jetties had been responsible for erosion of as much as 400 feet of coastline in some areas. Some homes, piers and other structures were damaged as well.
"This settlement marks the first and only time the federal government has ever resolved an erosion lawsuit with a beach renourishment and the payment of damages," GrayRobinson attorney Mason Williams says.
Although the recent settlement affects hundreds of beachfront property owners, others may also be in line to recover money. The judge in the 1992 suit prevented other affected owners from joining the suit but left them free to pursue their own cases.
It's unclear whether the settlement may set a standard that will help other property owners recover damages caused by the government's actions. Jack Kirschenbaum, another GrayRobinson attorney who worked on the case, says the settlement may have only a limited effect, and then only in certain circumstances.
"It may or may not have practical implications, depending on the direction (the Corps of Engineers) gets from the administration at the time regarding coastal erosion," he says.
Although the case does not set a strong legal precedent, Kirschenbaum says, the resolution of the lengthy case is a welcome event. "First, the property owners got their sand back," he says. "Now, they'll finally see some of the dollars they lost."
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