Deadline passes, house remains in bay waters off Cortez docks

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The stilt house, the subject of a dispute with the DEP, was built by Raymond Guthrie a short distance from the docks in Cortez. Islander File Photo

It’s the house on the water that won’t go away.

A 30-day court-ordered extension for Raymond Guthrie Jr. to remove his stilt-house by June 3 expired, but the structure remains standing and the legal battles continue. The structure was built in 2017 over Sarasota Bay yards from the fish docks in Cortez.

“Mr. Guthrie has not yet removed the unauthorized structure in accordance with the court’s order, despite the 30-day time extension provided by the department,” Shannon Herbon, Florida Department of Environmental Protection public information manager, wrote in a July 8 email to The Islander.

Herbon said the department planned to petition the court to require Guthrie to comply with the provisions of the judge’s final judgment.

The legal dispute between Guthrie and the DEP began in June 2017 when the DEP discovered the non-permitted structure and determined the state owned the submerged land under the stilt house.

Guthrie built the 1,200-square-foot structure with a metal roof, air conditioning and other amenities in February-May 2017.

On Feb. 6, 2018, the DEP sued Guthrie.

Karen Bell of A.P. Bell Fish Co. filed a motion May 4, 2018, claiming the fish processing company owned the land under Guthrie’s stilt-house and claiming historical significance for what they termed a “net camp.” Commercial fishers had used structures called net houses or camps to store, dry and mend nets from the late-1800s to the 1920s. The practice ended with the advent of monofilament nets in 1938.

Bell withdrew her motion in January and, Feb. 18, 12th Circuit Court Judge Edward Nicholas ordered the removal of the structure and, if completed by June 3, the DEP agreed to waive $6,500 in civil penalties, as well as court costs.

Guthrie filed May 6 for an extension claiming that because of COVID-19 shelter-in-place orders it would be “difficult if not impossible” to comply with the deadline.

The DEP opposed Guthrie’s motion May 16, but verbally agreed to allow the extension.

Reached by phone July 9, Guthrie acknowledged that the deadline had come and gone and said continued negotiations were in the hands of his attorney.

“My lawyer is working on it,” he said. “I don’t know where they are in the process.”

Guthrie added, “I’ve had camps all my life. My father had one. The (Florida Institute for Saltwater Fishing) has one out there and it looks terrible. They aren’t making them take theirs down,” he said. “Those are the only two out there.”

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