Dredging, Filling, And The Inalienable Public Trust — The Future Of Florida's Submerged Environment

Dredging and filling, especially to create waterfront property, has hadserious adverse effects on Florida's submerged environment. Primary adverseeffects of dredging and filling are disturbance or elimination of establishedaquatic habitats. Dredging and filling peaked in Florida from the 1920'sthrough the 1950's when large tracts of submerged land were sold to attractoutsiders. Submerged lands are generally considered to be held in inalienablepublic trust and legal questions arise concerning sale of these publicly-ownedlands. First controls over sale of submerged bottoms and dredging-filling werein the 1957 Bulkhead Act. In 1969 the State established a system of aquaticpreserves and the 1970 Legislature passed a bill prohibiting the sale ofsubmerged lands except when clearly in the public interest. The State of Florida and the Army Corps of Engineers share concurrentjurisdiction in the issuance of dredge-fill permits. The State is authorizedunder the Bulkhead Act and the Corps under the 1899 River and Harbor Act.Public concern over dredging and filling led to passage of several federalbills, including the National Estuary Study Act of 1968, the National Environmental Policy Act of 1969, and the Water Quality Improvement Act of1970. The Corps of Engineers have announced they are no longer concernedonly with navigation aspects and will give greater consideration to effects onnatural resources. In view of recent state and federal actions concerning sale of submerged lands and dredge-fill permits the future of Florida's submerged environment appears bright. Plans to further protect and conserve our estuaries are needed. Such plans could entail coastal zoning and habitat rehabilitation. Coastal zoning should protect unique bio-ecological systems such as Florida's mangrove swamps. Estuarine areas damaged through dredging may, in some cases, be restored to biological productivity through habitat rehabilitation. This could include transplanting aquatic vegetation, placing rocks or shell on disturbed bottoms, or establishing artificial reefs in estuarine waters.

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