Guthrie denies DEP allegations

Guthrie net camp
The Florida Department of Environmental Protection has ordered the removal of Raymond Guthrie Jr.’s net camp, far right, in Sarasota Bay off Cortez. The smaller structure on the water is a net camp built by the Cortez not-for-profit Florida Institute for Saltwater Heritage (FISH) as a historic artifact.

CORTEZ – Raymond Guthrie Jr. denies all but one of the 21 allegations in the state’s order to tear down the net camp he built in Sarasota Bay off the fishing village of Cortez last summer.

The Florida Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) filed a complaint in Manatee County 12th Circuit Court on Feb. 6 to have Guthrie remove the 1200-square-foot structure, claiming he built it without permission on sovereign state submerged lands in an Outstanding Florida Waterbody. Other claims include that he may have polluted the water and failed to take proper measures to protect manatees during construction.

Representing himself without an attorney, Guthrie admits in his response to the order only that the property is in Manatee County.

In his response, filed April 27 with the court, he denies all other allegations of the order, including nine responses that he “is without knowledge as to the truth or falsity of the allegations of this paragraph, and therefore denies same,” repeating five times that he “denies the allegations of this paragraph,” and repeating twice that he “is without knowledge as to the nature of FDEP’s action, and therefore denies same.”

The DEP Office of General Counsel is reviewing Guthrie’s response to determine its next steps, according to DEP spokeswoman Shannon Herbon.

Guthrie claims he built the structure on submerged land where his family once had a net camp, said his representative, Joanne Semmer, president of Fort Myers-based Ostego Bay Environmental Inc. Net camps are wooden structures built on pilings in the water where cotton nets – now obsolete – were stored.

He claims that he owns the submerged land under the 1921 Butler Act, which awarded title of submerged lands to adjacent waterfront property owners who made permanent improvements on the submerged lands, she said. The law was repealed in 1957 but continues to affect title to submerged lands improved prior to its repeal.

DEP concedes that historic aerial images show a smaller structure where Guthrie built his structure, but the smaller structure became dilapidated, negating a Butler Act claim, according to Herbon.

Commission, village support

The Manatee County Commission voted in March to support Guthrie.

“Given historic photos documenting the presence of multiple net camp structures, the reconstruction of this single structure to recapture the essence of the historic Cortez fishing community should be supported with the appropriate state permits,” the commission wrote to DEP.

Cortezians Karen Bell, of A.P. Bell Fish Co. – which overlooks Guthrie’s structure – and Capt. Kathe Fannon, who operates a tour boat business at Bell’s Star Fish Co., also support Guthrie.

Fannon calls net camps a “birthright,” recalling numerous net camps in the waters off the fishing village, which is on the National Register of Historic Places.

The net camp could be protected by that designation, and by the Manatee County Cortez Village Historical and Archeological Overlay District. The Cortez Village Community Vision Plan of 2000, included in the district’s design guidelines, supports “maintaining the historic fishing culture of Cortez.”

The net camp also could be protected within the Florida Working Waterfront program; Cortez is one of 24 Designated Waterfronts Florida Partnership Communities, a program created in 1997 to address “the physical and economic decline of traditional working waterfront areas,” according to a DEP publication.