Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

Businessman Claims Water Fight Victory

Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

Businessman Claims Water Fight Victory

Article excerpt

ST. AUGUSTINE -- For years, David Ponce has pleaded with three

Florida governors and wrangled with environmental officials,

saying that the state was illegally making him lease tidal land

beneath his family's business in St. Augustine.

Turns out he was right.

Worse yet, the state Department of Environmental Protection

knew four years before it stopped making Ponce lease the

property from the state that it was owned by St. Augustine and

not the state.

Now the state is having to pay Ponce's family $423,534 as

compensation, $152,877 for lease payments that was repayed last

year, and $270,656 in interest and other costs that hthe state

Legislature this month ordered reimbursed to the family.

"I fought them every single day," said the 50-year-old Ponce,

sitting in his restaurant at the Conch House Marina Resort,

which was opened by his father on the banks of Salt Run in 1946

as a four-unit hotel. "This was every day of my life."

The problems began in 1981 after a state inspector appeared on

Ponce's property and claimed the family had built over waters

and land controlled by the state.

Ponce said the state wanted the family to tear down some

buildings on the land and then obtain a lease for any future

improvements.

"They wanted me out," he said. "They knew it and I knew it."

After five years of haggling, the family -- fed up and wanting

to move on -- agreed to begin lease payments in 1986. Gov. Bob

Graham, in turn, ordered the state to lift a threat of tearing

down the structures.

But even when the state finally learned of the ownership glitch

in 1991, the Ponce family was required to keep paying the lease

that Ponce said averaged $18,000 a year.

Dan Crabb, chief of the Bureau of Land Management Services for

the Department of Environmental Protection, said the state gave

the tracts of land to St. Augustine in 1913 and 1925. He said

records of the 1925 exchange were lost or misplaced. …

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