DEP sues to remove house built in Sarasota Bay

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The Florida Department of Environmental Protection filed suit Feb. 6 to remove a house built without permits over the water in Sarasota Bay near the Cortez docks. Islander Photo: Kathy Prucnell

The Florida Department of Environmental Protection filed a two-count complaint Feb. 6 asking a judge to order Raymond Guthrie Jr. to take down the house he built in 2017 in Sarasota Bay near Cortez.

The 1,211 square-foot house stands on stilts about 350 feet from the A.P. Bell Fish Co. docks.

In the first count, the DEP seeks to enforce the department’s November 2017 “final order” requiring the structure’s removal and $6,500 in fines.

The second count asks for a court to assess Guthrie an amount “not to exceed $10,000 per day” plus investigative costs and expenses for failing to abide by the DEP order.

Both counts seek attorney fees and costs.

The DEP first inspected the structure in May 2017 and determined it had been built on state-owned submerged lands without a permit.

Guthrie told The Islander that month he planned to conduct seagrass experiments at night from the house in the water.

In October 2017, the DEP issued Guthrie a notice of violation and administrative orders for corrective action, including the structure’s removal, and assessed penalties for Guthrie’s noncompliance.

The final order Nov. 17, 2017, reaffirmed the October orders.

To date, according to the complaint, Guthrie has failed to meet DEP deadlines or demands.

Guthrie’s representative, Joanne Semmer, president of Ostego Bay Environmental Inc. of Fort Myers, claims the structure should be grandfathered because it stands where a net camp once stood.

Net camps and spreads, once a necessity for Cortez fishers, fell out of use. One shed still stands about 200 feet from Guthrie’s structure. It was built before 1960, according to local historians, and renovated by the Florida Institute for Saltwater Heritage. FISH is a nonprofit watchdog for commercial fishing.

Guthrie was offered a consent order in August, which would have allowed him to apply for a Butler Act disclaimer — a DEP-recognized exception for structures built on state land before 1951 — but he failed to accept some of the DEP terms.

Semmer said Feb. 8 she was pursuing a Butler Act designation, researching and collecting affidavits from people who’ve lived in Cortez for years.

Guthrie will have 20 days to file an answer to the DEP complaint after he is served, according to DEP public information manager Shannon Herbon.

Twelfth Circuit Judge Lon S. Arend is assigned the case.

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