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.