Regulators question oceanfront homeowners over 'beach scraping'

CEO United Airlines' Oscar Munoz, others investigated after I-TEAM report

By Vic Micolucci - I-TEAM reporter, anchor

PONTE VEDRA BEACH, Fla. - More than three weeks after several high-profile oceanfront homeowners were accused of taking sand from the public beach to protect their properties, environmental regulators responded to a I-TEAM request about the status of the state's investigation.

The Florida Department of Environmental Protection said investigators met with United Airlines CEO Oscar Munoz, Web.com CEO David Brown, UBS Financial Managing Director Chris Aitken and businesswoman Margaret Conolly on April 13 to ask about what is called "beach scraping," which is illegal without a permit.

The four live on adjoining properties along Ponte Vedra Boulevard near the Inn and Club. Dunes there were damaged or destroyed by hurricanes Matthew and Irma.

After several requests, DEP’s communications director, Dee Ann Miller, sent News4Jax a statement on Monday about the meetings with the four homeowners:

DEP will use this information to determine if there were violations of Florida law. We will hold the property owner accountable if violations are found, by identifying necessary restoration and/or remediation actions with the possibility of fines or other penalties for damages as defined by statute and deemed appropriate.”

Video taken by a neighbor who wants to remain anonymous sparked the state investigation. It appears to show contractors scraping sand from Ponte Vedra Beach, then used to build dunes to protect the  multimillion-dollar oceanfront mansions. That’s against the law.

The original News4Jax story on the apparent taking of public sand to protect private property made national headlines.

Environmental consultant Adam Hoyle, who’s worked cases like this, believes the homeowners could face hefty fines and bills.

"There’s probably going to be a remedy," Hoyles told the I-TEAM last month. "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 down there."

News4Jax once again left messages with the four homeowners. So far only Brown has responding, saying that he would cooperate fully with authorities.

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