Dunes illegally built to protect multi-million dollar homes might stay

Regulators tell I-TEAM 'beach scraping' skirted state environmental laws

By Vic Micolucci - I-TEAM reporter, anchor

PONTE VEDRA BEACH, Fla. - One day after the I-TEAM revealed some wealthy CEOs having sand scraped off the public beach to protect their oceanfront homes, the Department of Environmental Protection has launched an investigation and says fines and fees could be in order.

 According to state regulators, the four homeowners under investigation are:

  • United Airlines CEO Oscar Munoz
  • Web.com CEO David Brown
  • UBS Financial Managing Director Chris Aitken
  • Businesswoman Margaret Conolly

"Several neighbors, not just myself, we’re outraged about this," Ponte Vedra Beach resident Bill Hudson said.

The EPA and St. Johns County officials confirm to I-TEAM that this beach scraping is not permitted or allowed, but any violations would be civil, not criminal.

Adam Hoyles, of On-Site Environmental Consulting LLC, helps people get permits and build dunes legally. He told News4Jax this kind of massive relocation of beach sand by a private homeowner is so rare, he has never personally seen anyone do it.

"There’s probably going to be a remedy. I don’t know what that remedy would be, and it might be bringing in this equivalent amount of sand and bringing it back on the beach," Hoyles said.

SLIDESHOW: Sand taken from public beach to protect private property

That could cost tens of thousands, if not hundreds of thousands of dollars. That doesn't include fines and legal fees the homeowners are likely to face.

Oceanfront homeowners can have dunes put in front of their homes to protect their property, but they have to:

  • Get a permit from the DEP
  • Hire a qualified contractor
  • Truck beach-compatible sand in from somewhere else
  • Fill out a lot of paperwork

State regulators investigated the homeowners' actions and sent each a letter asking them to respond to the allegations. The state hasn't said anything about any penalties for contractors who built the dunes, but Hoyles said they should have known better and may face consequences.

News4Jax has tried to reach all four homeowners involved. So far, only Brown has responded. He said he wasn't aware of the investigation but would cooperate with authorities.

Hoyles said it's likely that the illegally built dunes will likely stay.

"One way or the other, there’s probably going to be a rebuilt dune there," Adam said. "The DEP does have the legal right that they could say, 'Remove that sand.' I don’t think they would, though."

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