Property Owners Say AG's Opinion For The Birds

An Attorney General's opinion could mean better protection for Least Terns in Harrison County. At issue is whether putting up a mesh fence at temporary nesting sites on the beach, infringes on the rights of beachfront homeowners.

The Coast Audubon Society wanted the county supervisors to erect a sand fence along the nesting sites to protect the birds. But the board wondered if such a barrier, would interfere with the "raparian rights" of homeowners to have a view and access to the water.

The Audubon Society asked for the Attorney General's opinion, and the A.G. basically said the fences are okay. And that has some beachfront property owners upset.

The gorgeous view of the water is the reason Dr. Onie Raines built his house on the beachfront in 1977.

"We would go down on the beach and swim and lay on the beach," Gulfport Resident Onie Raines said.

But, several years ago, dozens of feathery neighbors moved in. Least Terns turned the beach in front of his house near Hewes Avenue into their temporary nesting site. Now, The Coast Audubon Society wants the county to put up mesh fencing to protect the birds during nesting season.

"Since they nest here for all of the months that you would use the beach, it effectively just takes our beachfront away from us for our personal use," Raines said. "I think they infringe on my rights."

But, the Attorney General says nobody's rights are denied. The opinion says "the Harrison County Board of Supervisors may temporarily restrict access to areas of the public sand beach for two to three months for the benefit of the Least Terns."

However, the county must allow home owners access to the water near the sanctuaries. And the county can establish permanent and temporary sanctuaries if they are in the public interest.

"I was pleased with it. I felt it told us what we wanted to know and it was in our favor, and hopefully the supervisors are willing to help us on this," Jan Dubuisson with the Audubon Society said.

But, Dr. Raines isn't too happy.

"I just think that they're depriving me of something. The reason I'm here, built here, is to use the beach, and they've taken that away from me."

The Audubon Society sent a letter to county supervisors, asking them to put up the fence before the July Fourth holiday. But the next board meeting isn't scheduled until July 7th. Board President Marlin Ladner says he has not seen the Attorney General's opinion, so he can't comment on it.