Weekly Links

Public Access to Beaches is Under Attack


Everyone’s Favorite Meridian is Moving East

From WundergroundThe 100th meridian has long represented the divide between the moister eastern part of the United States and the more arid western part. Recent data suggests that this divide has shifted 140 miles east and is now closer to the 98th meridian. This means the divide between moist and arid has moved from Abilene, TX to Ft. Worth, TX. While this may not directly affect Georgia in the immediate future, it will make those areas that were safely tucked in the moister part of the country a bit more arid going forward. In the image below, the 100th meridian is roughly the line running though Texas, Oklahoma, Kansas, Nebraska, and the Dakotas separating the green, light blue, and dark blue from the light brown.

Image Credit: Wikipedia



It Costs Almost $12,000 a Year to Drive in Atlanta

From The AJCDriving isn’t cheap. Major recurring costs include car payments, car insurance premiums, gasoline, maintenance, and parking fees. INRIX, the company that recently told us that Atlanta has some of the worst traffic in the world, has calculated that Atlanta drivers pay $11,500 annually. This ranks 8th in the country. The study noted that the average drivers spends around $3,000 a year on parking-related costs. Interestingly, it doesn’t look like INRIX included indirect parking fees; they only included those direct costs that drivers pay to park. But as we recently wrote, parking is never free. Even though you may park in a free lot, it costs money to maintain that lot and those costs are transferred in the form of higher prices for goods or rent.

By comparison, a monthly unlimited-use MARTA pass costs $95. A similar unlimited-use subway and bus MetroCard for New York City (where it’s actually feasible to not own a car) costs $125 a year. That compares to the almost $19,000 it costs each year to drive in New York City.

Atlanta Traffic


The “Scourge of the South” Resurfaces in France

From Discover MagazineAlmost 100,000 Americans, mostly in the South, died between 1900 and 1940 from a strange disease called pellagra. Recently the same disease was found in ‘cannibalized’ hamsters in France. In the early part of the 20th Century, researchers believed the disease, which had symptoms ranging from rashes to dementia, was caused by flies. It turned out that farming practices were the main culprit. As southerners began to invest heavily in the growing of cotton, they planted vegetables and raised less livestock. This resulted in high-refined cornmeal and molasses being the main food sources for many in the south. Like many other problems, beer came to the rescue: it turned out that simple brewer’s yeast prevented pellagra. You should still eat vegetables, though.

Image Credit: Kimberly Vardeman

Politics/Land Use

Public Access to Beaches is Under Attack

From The Tampa Bay Times and SeaGrant Florida. Florida recently passed a law prohibiting local governments from passing ordinances designed to protect the public’s access to beaches. Under the Florida Constitution, the state holds in trust for the public all land from the mean high-tide outward (basically the wet sand of a beach). But what about the rest of the beach? Under the customary use doctrine, which is recognized in Florida, the public has a right to access private beaches (the dry sand of a beach) that have historically been used by the public. This is a gross generalization of the customary use doctrine, but the point is that an avenue exists for the public to claim a right to some of the dry sand on a beach. Some local governments have passed ordinances ensuring this customary use right.

The Florida legislature and Governor Rick Scott passed a law prohibiting counties from passing customary use laws. This is yet another example of state governments passing laws prohibiting local governments from doing something (see North Carolina preventing Charlotte from passing a bathroom bill and the Georgia legislature attempting to ban Tybee Island from banning plastic bags). The law, though, only applies to local ordinances passed after January 1, 2016. Only Walton County, in Florida’s panhandle, passed a similar ordinance after January 1, 2016.

So why target Walton County? Comments opposing the law outnumbered comments supporting the law by an 8 to 1 margin and the law was opposed by by local governments, environmental groups. realtors, and the business community. Is it because former presidential candidate Mike Huckabee and influential political consultant Karl Rove have beachfront houses in Walton County and they just happen to be of the same party as Governor Rick Scott and many of the legislators who passed the law? Could it be because Rick Scott owns a beachfront property in Naples? There’s no question that the public can cause damage to private beaches and occupy them in ways that aren’t protected by the customary use doctrine. Those issues certainly need to be addressed, but could Florida not do it in such an unpopular and seemingly corrupt way?

The United States Supreme Court is currently decided whether to accept a challenge to a California law requiring landowners to obtain permits prior to closing access to private beaches that have previously been open to the public. That discussion requires a separate article, but it’s something to keep an eye on.

Miramar Beach, Walton County, Florida. Image Credit: Skye Marthaler


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