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Regulators take action on Clearwater Beach dune destruction

The destruction of a dune on Clearwater Beach on Jan. 12 sparked outrage in members of the Clearwater Beach Association.

Courtesy Samuel Hutkin

The destruction of a dune on Clearwater Beach on Jan. 12 sparked outrage in members of the Clearwater Beach Association.

CLEARWATER — A homeowner and a machinery company that did not have permits to level sand dunes on north Clearwater Beach face sanctions from two separate state agencies.

The Florida Department of Environmental Protection has ordered homeowner Rosemary DeJoy to return the destroyed dune behind her home in the 700 block of Eldorado Avenue to its original state. She has until Feb. 23 to submit the restoration plan.

Meanwhile, John Woodhull, owner of Nice Services Inc. in Safety Harbor, has been ordered by the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission to appear before a Pinellas County judge Feb. 14 on a misdemeanor charge for modifying the dune without a permit.

FWC Lt. Todd Hand acknowledged that whomever hired Woodhull should have gotten a permit. But, Hand said, it was ultimately the contractor's responsibility to make sure either he or they had one.

DeJoy's failure to comply with DEP's order, as well as Woodhull's citation, could result in fines of up to $10,000.

The Pinellas County Construction Licensing Board also said this week that it would charge Woodhull with contracting without a permit. The allegation, which carries potential penalties ranging from a written reprimand to fines or a license suspension, will require Woodhull to appear for a probable cause hearing before the licensing board, then possibly before the agency's director for a final decision.

"He should know that whenever you attempt to modify a natural feature such as a sand dune," Hand told the Times, "it's the type of endeavor where you need a permit."

The Jan. 12 incident was the latest in a series to raise the ire of Clearwater Beach Association members, who have pleaded for years with developers and their own neighbors to protect the dunes that buffer coastal properties from high tide and storm surge damage. Dunes also provide sheltered habitat for shorebirds and other creatures. State law protects them from destruction.

Association members recorded this latest destruction on film and video, and turned it over to police and state officials for investigation.

DeJoy told FWC investigators the dunes blow sand onto her patio, blocking entry to the beach, and also attract snakes and rodents.

State records show DeJoy had proper documentation for a 2011 excavation to push sand buildup seaward from her white patio fence. And she told FWC investigators she had been corresponding with DEP, the city of Clearwater and an engineering company to obtain a permit for this most recent work.

However, Woodhull and the woman told officials it was actually DeJoy's ex-husband, for whom Woodhull had done past projects, who hired him for the latest job. Woodhull said he was led to believe permits had already been obtained. There was no written contract and Woodhull said he was never paid.

Woodhull, nonetheless, acknowledged responsibility for the destruction and failure to ensure proper permitting, Hand said.

On Wednesday, a woman who identified herself as DeJoy's mother said DeJoy didn't wish to speak with a reporter. Woodhull also did not return calls seeking comment.

"I have no evidence that can officially link DeJoy to ordering the work to be done and no evidence to link (the ex-husband), as there was no contract or payment made to Woodhull," Hand wrote in his investigative report.

The strong response from regulators elicited an immediate "Wow!" from Clearwater Beach Association president Wendy Hutkin.

"That's huge," she said. "The residents felt like it's a battle, that we're the only ones advocating against illegal activity. I'm glad these agencies have stepped up to the plate. A bulldozer driving down the beach illegally on a Saturday should never happen, so I'm glad they're taking steps to make them accountable."

Hutkin said the association will continue to lobby city and police officials for increased enforcement, public awareness campaigns and publicity about the outcomes of dune destruction cases.

"If you're aware there's ramifications for doing illegal activity," she said, "you might be a little more hesitant."

Keyonna Summers can be reached at (727) 445-4153 or ksummers@tampabay.com. To write a letter to the editor, go to tampabay.com/letters.

Regulators take action on Clearwater Beach dune destruction 01/30/13 [Last modified: Wednesday, January 30, 2013 7:53pm]
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