New non-profit looks to tackle Customary Use issue

By Nathan Cobb
315-4432 | @WaltonSunNate nathan@waltonsun.com

A new non-profit is working to help mediate customary use problems in Walton
County and help promote responsible land expansion. Preserving South Walton Inc. was founded in May by residents Wesley (Wes) Herndon, president and executive director; Steven Burnett, assistant executive director and vice president; and his son, Collin Burnett. Herndon said his non-profit is looking to resolve the customary use disputes facing the county, but that wasn’t the only issue they were focused on. Steven Burnett said they are also hoping to help the
county establish recreational complexes for the public.

“We’re not so idealistic that we’re blind, but we felt like we could mediate because nobody is willing to give an inch (with the customary-use issues),” Herndon said. “So we thought, ‘it’s just tearing this county apart,’ and this world and this nation has
gotten to a point to where nobody is listening to anybody.”

Steven Burnett said their plans are more in-depth than just buying areas of the beach and then opening them back up to the public. They hope to, with the help of crowd funding, purchase beach-front areas and then alter their deeds to fit the needs of both homeowners and visitors.

“Just go to the coastal construction line and go say 25 feet from that and make a new line,” Steven Burnett said. “And then everything waterside of that line, have it in the deed to where that’s a public use beach.”

He also said one of the biggest problems facing the county is that beach-front owners are sometimes held liable for accidents that happen on their property, something he said shouldn’t be in their deeds in the first place. He said Preserving South Walton Inc. will first look into purchasing and altering the deeds of vacant coastal areas, but eventually hope to help unhappy homeowners rewrite their original deeds as well.

They ultimately hope to mediate theses areas and preserve their natural beauty, which in turn might help slow down development across Walton County beaches.

Preserving South Walton Inc. officials plan to host fundraisers in the near future, and the group is currently looking for business partners.

For more information on the non-profit or to make donations, visit perservingsouthwalton.org.

“We founded the non-profit originally to basically educate and promote responsible land development in Walton County because everybody was looking to government to slow business down and slow down development,” Herndon said. “We felt like we could do it in a kinder, gentler way and encourage it through a non-profit.