A handful of downtown Bay St. Louis waterfront owners have been at odds with the city and the state over the future use of their properties virtually since Hurricane Katrina.
Plans to widen Beach Boulevard and build a downtown harbor, they said, could infringe on their property rights.
A Bay St. Louis family recently filed suit against the city and the secretary of state’s office seeking the immediate “return and restoration” of their beach front property.
Kenneth F. Murphy, Ray J. Murphy and Audie R. Murphy, who own the beachfront site where the popular Dan B’s tavern and restaurant stood before Hurricane Katrina and an adjacent lot, filed the lawsuit in Hancock County Chancery Court.
“They stole our land on the beach front,” Ken Murphy said. “We’re not letting ’em do it.”
According to the suit, the secretary of state’s office “has erroneously claimed that the plaintiffs’ private upland property … is identified as Tidelands … and therefore subject to the Public Trust Tidelands Act. The plaintiffs dispute that claim.”
The lawsuit said that decision “to take private property for government use with no regard for the owners’ property rights was arbitrary, erroneous, unreasonable, capricious and a blatant abuse of discretion and power, which amounts to a de-facto eminent domain action without due process or just compensation.”
The lawsuit gives only one side of the legal argument.
Eventually, Murphy said, he and his brothers want to build a hotel on the property, and had planned to do so since well before Hurricane Katrina.
“When they started all this stuff, I told them, ‘well, it’s a great plan, but you need to get off my land.’ The secretary of state said ‘I’m taking your land and there’s nothing you can do about it.’ Well, we’re doing something.
“We just want ’em to get off our land and restore it to its proper condition. They’ve already put a drainage ditch across it. That’s got to go.
“Then they’ll have to move the harbor out to mean high tide — assuming we prevail — and the harbor will not be able to block us from the water. We plan on having a dock,” he said.
The Murphys are asking the court to find that their property is in compliance with the 1994 Final Tideland Boundary Map, lying between the retaining wall and the mean high water line, and is therefore not subject to Tidelands use.
They’re further seeking that any property that has been “taken or damaged” be “returned and restored.”
Murphy said the burden of proof that his family’s land is subject to the Tidelands Trust Act is on the state, not the plaintiffs.
“If the secretary of state can refute all of our evidence, he may be able to win,” Murphy said. “However, that’s going to be a tough row to hoe.”