Okeechobee News, Monday, October 19, 1992
Upper Chain of Lakes residents
There are other landowners in the region
known as the Upper Chain of Lakes who are
also engaged in a struggle with the various
state agencies over lands which may, or may
not, be state-owned or sovereign lands.
One such landowner is Jim Maddox who
is the proprietor of Port Hatchineha on Lake
Hatchineha. In his case, the South Florida
Water Management District first came to
him In 1989. When they
fist explained the revital-
ization program for the
lake, they said they would W ho
"fix" his property. Later,
they returned and told .Flo
him that It would cost $2
million to keep his proper-
ty from being inundated
when they raise the level of
"Ihey came back and
said It was not feasible to
fix tt so they would pur- lorida lax
chase the property." Mr.
Maddox said. "lhey said aIn the.8
they may want to do ISSUr -.
something down the road,
and rd be tn the way. so By TWIi
they would buy it froin
me. On Jan. 10, 1990,
they sent me a letter say-
ing my land would be acqulsitoned and they
offered me 21 cents on the dollar, on the
He said the property has been surveyed
nine times and they have appraised it sever-
"Ihe offers they made to me were rldicu-
lous," he said. "It was pathetic. They offered
me 10 cents on the dollar. They would not
pay me any money until 1995. This was In
1990. During that ive years, If they decided
they were paying me too much money, they
would adjust the amount. I would be
responsible if they found any toxic waste."
He said that over the past three years.
there have been private investors who have
wanted to buy the
property, but when he
tells them of the prob-
owns lems with the state
agencies, they back off
'Ida? Sme time back he
and his attorney
attended a meeting
$Sxth In with district officials. He
ere said there had been
S. three appraisals and
l on the there was $800,000 dif-
I: stOry of ference between the
s lowest and the highest
He asked them to bring
W lgnty the appraisals. He said
they told him he could
look at t but he could
'Valentine not copy it.
He said they used
comparable sales from
the area, but most of
them were only about an acre in size, and all
they had was a fish camp, or a recreational
vehicle park and a bait shop.
Mr. Maddox has four acres on which
there is a five-unit motel, a 20-unit R.V.
park, a 100-boat marina, a 100-seat restau-
rant and a bait shop. He said he has the only
boat ramp on Lake Hatchineha.
"Until all this happened, the business
was growing 30 to 40 percent per year.
They've destroyed it now. I used to have 10
empnyees. Now, there's Just my wife and I
and one waitress," he said. "Ie made them
mad. Theyjust don't like me at all"
Now, he has received a letter stating he is
on sovereign lands and they will do nothing
further or they will buy It for what they
offered him for t.
State Rep. Irlo (Bud) Bronson and his
faeny, owners of the Branson Ranch, locat-
ed around Lakes Cypress and Kisslmmee,
have been embroiled in litigation with the
state for 10 years over the sovereignty Issue.
In this case. the state wants to take
15,000 acres of the 20,000-acre ranch. Not
al of the land s being disputed as sovereign
South Florida Water Management Dis-
trict Is offering a lease so they ranch will
have flowage easements and can continue to
run cattle on it, but the district wants to
include a loophole that says they are leasing
it back with the understanding that they
have the right to cancel all the leases.
According to the district they plan to cancel
all leases on lands they have purchased and
are leasing back in years.
Several years ago, landowners Invoked
the Marketable Records Title Act (MRTA) to
fight against caims by the Florida Depart-
ment of Natural Resources on what is
sovereign tnds. The state lost some 50.000
acres ofwhat It claimed were sovereign sub-
merged lands in 14 court cases brought
MRTA basically states that If an owner's
title has gone unchallenged for 30 years,
claims against an existing title are barred.
Not only did the DNRwant to daim lands
beneath navigable rivers, streams and lakes
as sovereign lands, they also proposed a
change to the law in 1985 that woulk permit
the state to lay claim to submerged lands
adjacent to a navigable waterway, as they
are attempting to do now in the Kissimmee
RiverValey some seven years later.
Florida Statute 712.03 (7) states the
exception to MRTA is "...State title to lands
beneath naviable waters acquired by vltue
Kevin Crowley. then the general
counsel for DNR, said in 1986 that
swamps were not considered navigable
by the department. He said the fact that
an Indian could travel over a swamp in
a canoe did not make that swamp a
navigable waterway. He said the depart-
ment was only concerned about acquir-
ing land beneath the state's lakes and
His statement, reported in the Okee-
chobee News dated May 30, 1986 said,
"In Okeechobee, I can tell you categori-
cally that the state does not claim any-
thing outside of the Hoover Dike except
that which we've bought back as part of
the Save Our Rivers program."
The difficulty still seems to be con-
tained in the fact of Just what consti-
tutes "submerged" lands and are adja-
cent wetlands, swamps and overflowed
lands, while not navigable, also sub-
merged and sovereign lands.