Okeechobee News, Saturday, October 17, 1992 7
Surveyor objects to state's method
of measuring elevation
The Department of Natural Resources
is attempting to claim that several busi-
nesses in the upper chain of lakes at the
headwaters of the Kissimmee River are
located on state-owned lands. Following a
court case in Okeechobee County in
1987, the Official Survey Map of 1859
was used to determine the ordinary high
Now, based on recent
documents which the
DNR has issued to prop-
erty owners in the upper :W
chain of lakes, the agen-
cy is attempting to use Fl
elevations to determine
the ordinary high water
line. In the case of the
Oasis Marina on S.R.
60, the owner J.W.
Lunsford was told that
that elevation Is 52.5
Leland Dyals, a local
surveyor, who worked aw tW SC
for the state during the ISS U
years the Kissimmee
River was being charf: -,ri
nelized, said that he 1 I
feels the state agencies
are wrong when they try
to use elevations to determine the ordi-
nary high water line.
"On a river, the ordinary high water
line is not the elevation. It's where the
water remains long enough to change the
characteristics of the land," he said. "Are
we going to have one set of rules for the
folks along the Kissimmee River and one
for everyone else in the state?"
He said that he feels the state of Flori-
da is trying to do to the people here the
same as they did in Russia in 1917. He
said that whether it's in the name of the
workers or the environment, the cause
and effect are the same.
"People's land is being taken," he said.
"The landowners in the Kissimmee River
Valley need to band together and take
extreme action. If government won't pro-
tect people's title to land, it's time for peo-
ple to band together to protect their prop-
erty and homes. Own-
ership of private prop-
erty is the basis of our
OWfS country. A deed is no
a- better than the gov-
ida? ernment which stands
_rtnm behind it"
FUnrh III Part of the argu-
B' UBrB ment over the
S n ton he "sovereign lands" issue
stems from the
.hslWOry impression that some
:'" FIOFlrida state officials have left
I d.sl w with the public that
,; i n *many of the lands in
V Ilgf the Upper and Lower
Kissimmee River Basin
are, in essence, occu-
Vlnt j pied by 'squatters."
S*who moved In and
took the land when it
was drained following
the channelization of the once-meander-
ing river by the U.S. Army Corps of Engi-
neers during the 1960s. Those residents
dispute the state's allegations, since they
say they have title to those lands and
have been paying ad valorem property
taxes on them.
According to the Okeechobee County
property appraiser. Bill Sherman, lands
in any county can be placed on the tax
rolls only when a person shows proof of
ownership. He said those landowners up
and down the Kissimmee River, in High-
lands, Osceola, Polk, Glades and Okee-
chobee counties have titles to the proper-
ties they occupy. Many of those property
owners have deeds and abstracts going all
the way back to where Hamilton Disston's
signature from the late 1880s and early
1890s appears on the original docu-
ments. Many of those landowners are liv-
ing on lands which have been in the same
family for more than 100 years.
The state is also trying to claim owner-
ship to what they term "policy lands."
These lands are those which are adjacent
to the Kissimmee River and which stretch
to the tree lines. In some locations on the
river, those tree lines are nearly a mile
from the banks of the river.
Bill Malone, the director of land man-
agement for the South Florida Water Man-
agement District, said in October 1991
that the Governor and his Cabinet, sitting
at the Board of Trustees of the Internal
Improvement Fund, adopted a policy on
"policy lands," and Mr. Malone described
them thusly: "Policy lands are lands that
lie waterward of a safe upland line. Basi-
cally, it runs from tree line to tree line."
He said the trustees determined to buy
those lands and not assert their owner-
ship to them.
Following an audit of the water man-
agement district in August, the Florida
Department of Environmental Regulation
criticized the district for paying full price
for lands which the state might claim as
sovereign lands. DER's audit said the dis-
trict should be discounting the price of
those lands by 30 percent
The audit was also critical of thwse
lands which had been leased back to the
former owners at what the agency called
"bargain rates." The audit report said the
lands should have been purchased at the
discount and leased back to the former
owners at their fair market value.
At their August meeting, the governing
board of the district felt the landowners
would balk at discounts on their lands,.
and suggested the test of ownership
needs to be determined in a court of law.
The board said that DER and the other
state agencies should assert a claim and
sue to quiet title or let the district proceed
with obtaining the balance of the land it
says it needs for the restoration project at
the fair market values.
Frank (Sonny) Williamson, a member
of the governing board who resides in
Okeechobee County, said in August he
did not feel that Carol Browner, the sec-
retary of DER, should have come in and
made subjective Judgements outside the
realm of an audit, questioning policy
decisions made by her predecessor. Mr.
Williamson said you don't audit .poli-
Then, at the September meeting of the
governing board, the members voted to
spend as much as $379.000 with Bob
Butterworth, the State Attorney, in'bring-
ing suit on this issue.
Again, Mr. Williamson spoke out,
'What we're doing here is moving the dis-
trict away from almost like a neutral third
party assisting in the negotiation and into
an adversarial position."
Mr. Williamson said he feels if the dis-
trict joins with the state attorney's office
in this issue, it could be very detrimental
to negotiations with any of the landown-
ers in the Klssimmee River valley.
He said on the other side of the coin,
he was concerned about spendingad val-
orem tax money to protect the state's land