The U.S. Bureau of Land Management has investigated a pair of incidents that took place on the Indian River shoreline of the Jupiter Inlet Lighthouse Outstanding Natural Area.
JUPITER — Faced with a rash of reported misbehavior at the Jupiter Inlet Lighthouse’s shoreline, the Bureau of Land Management is following through on plans to flex its law enforcement muscle there.
The bureau, which manages the 120-acre Jupiter Inlet Lighthouse Outstanding Natural Area, has wrapped up one investigation while probing another matter, spokeswoman Megan Crandall said Friday.
"We have a law enforcement presence and we are working very hard to ensure this area is appropriately protected," Crandall said.
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Agency officials and others worry over dune erosion on the natural area’s Indian River shoreline that is "massively accelerating," according to BLM program manager Peter De Witt.
Officials have repeatedly urged people in recent months to stay off the dune, citing environmental and safety concerns. It is popularly called Sand Mountain or Sand Hill and has long been a hot spot for boaters and others to hang out.
The open investigation concerns an incident along the Indian River shoreline at about 3 p.m. last Sunday.
An adult male reportedly damaged one of the natural area’s signs, Crandall said. He was briefly detained, according to a document from the Jupiter Police Department, which assisted the land bureau.
The sign, advising people to stay on a trail north of the shoreline dune, had only been posted for about a week, De Witt said. It ultimately ended up in someone’s boat, he added.
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"Incidentally, it’s a sign that had been stolen two weeks prior and we had replaced it with a new one," De Witt said.
Crandall would not say if the man would be charged, only that BLM investigators are looking into it and will then decide how to proceed. She said she was also unable to name the individual.
It’s the first vandalism incident with an immediate law enforcement response that De Witt said he’s seen in his roughly seven years on the job in Jupiter.
The completed investigation addressed a YouTube video shot at the lighthouse’s Indian River shoreline and published online Feb. 7.
The video showed a group of young men building a pond and filling it with marine life. Remnants of the pond were still on the shoreline days after the video was published online, De Witt has said.
Crandall would not disclose the result of that investigation, saying "not all of the outcomes" had been completed as of Wednesday.
Since the holiday season, the land bureau has reported a spate of vandalism and general debauchery at the natural area’s shoreline that it says has worsened the erosion there.
Signs have been defaced, fencing has been torn down and sand has been carved out, the agency has said.
The bureau plans to cycle rangers to Jupiter throughout the rest of the tourist season to address the situation. One such ranger responded to the vandalism report Sunday. The BLM also wants to strike a deal with a local law enforcement agency for a contracted police presence at the natural area.
Jupiter boater Kris Wilson, who enjoys hanging out at the shoreline with his friends, said stepping up law enforcement there seems unnecessary.
He said he already sees a host of different agencies patrolling the area, including the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, Jupiter Police and Tequesta Police.
"If it is causing erosion, then we shouldn’t walk up the cliffs," Wilson said. "But I don’t think we need rangers out there to police that."
The bureau wants people to stay in the wet sand at the foot of the dune, but not everyone heeds that advice. Just before sunset last Saturday, multiple people were seen climbing up the sand as 10 or so small boats gathered along the shoreline.
The busy season shows no signs of letting up for now, said De Witt, the BLM’s lone full-time employee in town. He counted more than 300 people and roughly 45 boats coming and going at the shoreline during one three-hour period over Presidents Day weekend.
Also of note: 36 dogs, he said, "only five of which were on leashes." Dogs are not allowed in natural areas under a county ordinance, he said.
"We have lost some more vegetation," De Witt said Wednesday. "I was out there just yesterday at low tide taking monitoring photos. More sand, soil, material is at the base of the dune."
Boaters have become a scapegoat for the erosion, Wilson said. When he visits the shoreline, Wilson said he and his friends stay off the dune and clean up after themselves.
The only dune-climbers he sees are kids and dogs.
"We spend a lot of time there and a lot of the locals and a lot of the boaters aren’t happy about what’s said ... and what’s happening," Wilson said.
He believes removing invasive plants from the shoreline has allowed the weathering to worsen and suggested the BLM look into building a seawall there.
Among the exotics that were removed were Australian pine trees, which De Witt has said "don’t do much for holding the sand in place."
There is a natural component to the erosion, however. When Hurricane Dorian brushed by Palm Beach County last year, for example, the dune’s base retreated by 4 to 6 feet, according to an initial estimate.
Despite the "significant increase of human-caused erosion" at the Indian River shoreline, Crandall said her agency is committed to maintaining the natural area’s accessibility for decades to come.
"From my perspective, I like to tell everyone, whether you’re recreating in Utah or Oregon or Florida, when you make the decision to go out and enjoy public lands, every single one of us has the responsibility to leave those lands if at all possible better than we found it," Crandall said.