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Is Suzanne Harris Truly to Blame for loss of our beaches in Walton County?

In the scenic environs of Walton County, the debate over beach access rights has intensified, pitting neighbors against each other and drawing a line in the sand over the concept of customary use.

At the epicenter of this tumultuous debate is Suzanne Harris, a figure whose actions and motivations have become a focal point for both criticism and scrutiny.

The question on many minds is clear: Is Suzanne Harris to blame for the contentious battle over customary use in Walton County?

To answer this question, one must first understand what customary use entails—a principle asserting that certain beaches have been accessed by the public for recreation for so long that it has become a right.

This concept, deeply woven into the fabric of coastal community life, was significantly altered when Governor Rick Scott signed legislation in 2018, making it more difficult for local governments to enforce customary use on privately owned beaches.

The narrative that has emerged positions Harris as the catalyst for these legislative changes, suggesting her disputes over a volleyball net at Edgewater Beach Resort somehow spiraled into a county-wide, then statewide, legal and legislative showdown.

Critics argue that her steadfast defense of property rights and her willingness to engage in legal battles have not only alienated public beachgoers but have also set a precedent that encouraged the state's intervention.

Yet, this perspective oversimplifies a multifaceted issue and unfairly places the burden of a collective legislative decision and its far-reaching consequences on the shoulders of one individual.

The passage of the legislation by Governor Scott and the subsequent effects on customary use in Walton County were the result of a complex interplay of political, legal, and social forces—not the sole doing of Suzanne Harris.

Moreover, the focus on Harris obscures the broader conversation about the balance between private property rights and public access to Florida's beaches.

It is a debate that extends beyond Walton County and involves a multitude of stakeholders, including homeowners, tourists, environmentalists, and lawmakers.

By concentrating on Harris as the primary antagonist, we risk missing an opportunity to engage in a more constructive dialogue about finding a path forward that respects both the rights of property owners and the public's access to these cherished natural resources.

It is essential to recognize that the erosion of customary use rights in Walton County and beyond is a symptom of a larger issue that requires thoughtful policy-making and community engagement.

Legislation and legal battles are not the only avenues through which this issue can be addressed.

There is a need for innovative solutions that can reconcile the interests of all parties involved, ensuring that Florida's beaches remain accessible and enjoyable for future generations.

In conclusion, casting Suzanne Harris as the villain in the saga of customary use in Walton County is not only reductive but also unhelpful in moving towards a resolution.

It is time to shift the conversation from assigning blame to fostering collaboration and understanding among all stakeholders.

Only then can we hope to navigate the complex and emotive issue of beach access rights in a manner that is fair, equitable, and sustainable for all.

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