Illegal house built in Sarasota Bay near Cortez docks to tumble

The stilt-house built over the water near the commercial fishing docks in Cortez is coming down after three years of legal maneuvers between builder Raymond Guthrie Jr. and the Florida Department of Environmental Protection.

On Oct. 8, a virtual court hearing was held on a DEP motion for contempt against Guthrie for his failure to remove the non-permitted stilt-house in the public waters on Sarasota Bay.

In spite of multiple court orders, Guthrie was not found in contempt.

Still, the court gave him a final deadline to remove the structure.

“They gave me 90 days to take it down,” Guthrie, a Cortez resident, said Oct. 14. “I’ve just got to pull it down.”

“This matter is still in litigation so we are limited in our ability to comment at this time,” DEP public information manager Shannon Hebron wrote in an Oct. 15 email to The Islander.

The statement continued, “On Oct. 8, 2020, the department attended a hearing on its motion requiring Mr. Guthrie to comply with the provisions of the court’s final judgment after he failed to remove the unauthorized structure, despite the 30-day time extension provided by the department. While the judge declined to hold Mr. Guthrie in contempt of court, he did order Mr. Guthrie to remove the unauthorized structure within 90 days of the order on the motion.”

In a Nov.17, 2017, order against Guthrie, the DEP stated the terms for the removal:

  • Guthrie must give 24-hour notice to the DEP in advance of the structure’s removal.
  • Stockpiling of tools and materials along the shoreline is prohibited;
  • A floating turbidity apron must be installed around the structure prior to removal;
  • The removed structure must be placed in a self-contained disposal site;
  • Any watercraft associated with the removal must be operated within waters of sufficient depth to prevent dredging.

Guthrie declined to say how much it might cost him to remove the structure.

“It’s a lot, that’s for sure,” he said.

Guthrie had claimed the structure is a historic “net camp,” where cotton fishing nets were stored by Cortez commercial fishers for generations, including by his father and grandfather.

The dispute between Guthrie and the DEP began in June 2017, when the DEP discovered what it termed an “enclosed docking structure,” built without permits on submerged land owned by the state.

Based on Google Earth aerial imagery and historic aerial photo reviews, “prior to 2017, a smaller dilapidated structure existed in the place where the enclosed docking structure was subsequently constructed,” the DEP stated in its 2017 complaint.

Guthrie built the structure with a metal roof, air conditioning and other amenities between February 2017 and May 2017.

On Feb. 18, he was given until June 3 by Judge Edward Nicholas of the 12th Judicial Circuit Court to dismantle and remove the structure.

On May 6, Guthrie, requested a time extension and on May 16 the DEP filed its opposition to the extension but then gave Guthrie an additional 30 days to comply, giving him until July 3.

On July 9, as the structure remained standing, the DEP filed the motion for contempt.

“The department is committed to enforcing Florida’s environmental laws and will continue to share information as we progress through this enforcement process,” Hebron said.