State DEP to request removal of net camp

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Junior Guthrie’s house on stilts sits over the water a short distance from the A.P. Bell Fish Co. and Star Fish Market and Restaurant docks. Islander File Photos
Raymond “Junior” Guthrie sits with Karen Bell in a court hearing in February 2019.

After nearly three years of legal wrangling, the failure of a last-ditch attempt to save a stilt house illegally built on the water has opened the door to its demolition.

The legal battles began in 2017 when the Florida Department of Environmental Protection demanded Raymond Guthrie Jr. remove the 1,200-square-foot house he built on pilings in Sarasota Bay near the Cortez-based A.P. Bell Fish Co. and pay fines for ignoring the order.

Guthrie built the structure — a metal roof, air conditioning and other amenities — including installing the pilings — between February 2017 and May 2017 without state permits.

In June 2017, the DEP determined the state owns the submerged land where the structure stands.

On Feb. 6, 2018, the DEP sued Guthrie and petitioned the court for enforcement and compliance. On that date, there also was a notice for violation orders for corrective action.

On May 4, 2018, A.P. Bell Fish Co. filed a motion to intervene, claiming the company owns the submerged land where Guthrie’s stilt house stands.

At a court hearing on Feb. 5, 2019, attorney Joe Beasley, representing Guthrie and A.P. Bell, told the court Guthrie “rebuilt” the structure within the footprint of historic net camps of the past.

Guthrie told the court last February: “I was born and raised in Cortez. My father had camps out there and his father had camps. This is the third time I’ve rebuilt this camp. Since I was a kid, anyone who wanted to build a camp, just did.”

Commercial fishers used net camps to store gear and dry and mend cotton nets in the late 1800s-1920s, after which they fell into disrepair. With the advent of monofilament nets in 1938, they were no longer needed. Most were destroyed by storms in the 1960s.

Judge Edward Nicholas of the 12th Circuit entered a summary judgment Feb. 25, 2019, in favor of the DEP, but stayed the execution of the order pending the outcome of Bell’s motion. The stay meant the DEP was not able to enforce the court order.

But last month, with a bench trial pending, Bell and the DEP agreed to take the case off the docket and engage in settlement discussions.

On Jan. 27, AP Bell and the DEP and board of trustees filed a motion to enter a final judgment, although it had not yet been adopted Jan. 29.

“Upon the court’s adoption and issuance of the consent final judgment, the department will notify the judge and request that the court enforce the terms of the department’s final order, including removal of the unauthorized structure,” DEP public information manager Shannon Herbon wrote in a Jan. 29 email to The Islander.

2 thoughts on “State DEP to request removal of net camp

  1. Debbie Newton

    I grew up in that area and still love to visit. Leave the net houses alone. They are not a threat to the environment in any way. They’re part of the rich history and culture of Cortez Fishing Village. How will our kids know and experience visually the history if you take it away from them? Florida Department of Environmental Protection has serious environmental issues to deal with….focus on those and leave the historical districts alone.

  2. tanequa brown

    What is wrong with people down here? Why can’t you just build yourself a house in the middle of the bay? Why do you need something as silly as a permit?
    Why can’t you take a few bucks from a developer and then let him build whatever he wants even if it is in violation of county regulations.
    Why can’t you build a big tree house without permits or consent?
    Why can’t you catch and drag a shark to its death?
    Why can’t you hold “special” meetings about governance?
    And the list goes on and on.
    What is wrong with people down here?

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