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Sovereign Submerged Lands (SSL) - Proprietary Authority versus Regulatory Authority in Chapter 18-21, F.A.C.

Explanation of Sovereign Submerged Lands (SSL) and the Linkage Between Proprietary Authority and Regulatory Authority in ERP

  • Sovereign Submerged Lands (SSL) are those lands including but not limited to, tidal lands, islands, sand bars, shallow banks, and lands waterward of the ordinary or mean high water line, beneath navigable fresh water or beneath tidally-influenced waters, which the State of Florida acquired title to on March 3, 1845, by virtue of statehood, and which have not been heretofore conveyed or alienated. (18-21.003, Florida Administrative Code)
  • Prior to the merger into the Department of Environmental Protection (DEP), the Department of Environmental Regulation had regulatory jurisdiction over certain activities affecting air, water, and land. The Department of Natural Resources had proprietary jurisdiction over uses of sovereign submerged lands. The following explains the current proprietary and regulatory functions of DEP's Submerged Lands and Environmental Resource Permitting.
  • Regulatory authority allows an entity of the government, such as DEP, to limit certain activities on property, as well as on publicly owned lands, to some specific degree for the greater public good. DEP, in its regulatory capacity, is required by acts of the Florida Legislature, to protect the natural resources of the state, such as air, water and wildlife, to insure that these resources will be healthy and abundant for present and future generations. DEP's Submerged Lands and Environmental Resources Coordination program reviews applications for proposed works in wetlands and other surface waters, as well as works in uplands that can affect water quality and quantity, to ensure compliance with the Florida Administrative Code and Florida Statutes.
  • Proprietary authority:  The State Legislature designated the Governor and Cabinet as the Board of Trustees of the Internal Improvement Trust Fund of the State of Florida (Board of Trustees) in 1845. The Board of Trustees were given proprietary (ownership) authority over sovereign submerged lands (SSL) and their uses, and were held responsible for insuring the lands and the associated aquatic resources remained healthy and in abundance for present and future generations. All tidally influenced waters to the mean high water line and navigable fresh waterbodies to the ordinary high water line in existence when Florida became a state in 1845 are considered sovereign. In accordance with the Constitution of the State of Florida, these lands are held in trust by the state for all the people.
  • The Department of Environmental Protection, in addition to its regulatory capacity, acts as the staff to the Board of Trustees in the review of proposed uses of sovereign submerged lands (SSL). Projects proposing to conduct an activity in waters that are not SSL are required to meet regulatory standards only. A proposed activity located on SSL may be required to meet both regulatory and proprietary requirements as found in the Florida Statutes and Florida Administrative Code.

Linkage and Delegation Rules

Chapter 18-21, Florida Administrative Code (F.A.C.)

Two amendments were made to help streamline the process for obtaining both a regulatory and a proprietary authorization, referred to as the linkage rule and delegation rule. The amendments simplified and accelerated regulatory and proprietary reviews, issuances, and denials. Efficiency increases and cost decreases occurred for the regulated public and the State from the amendments allowing the staff of one agency to perform both regulatory and proprietary reviews for a given project.

The first amendment, Section 18-21.00401, F.A.C., known as the linkage rule, links the review and issuance (or denial) of a proprietary authorization to use sovereign submerged lands (SSL) with the review and issuance (or denial) of a regulatory authorization (an environmental resource permit, a wetland resource permit (grandfathered), or a joint coastal permit). Linkage eliminates situations where a regulatory permit is granted for an activity that does not qualify for a proprietary authorization, or vice versa.

  • A single application is used by people seeking both regulatory authorization and proprietary authorization.
  • Both forms of authorization follow a single time line regarding the completeness of the application and issuance or denial of the authorization. Failure to satisfy the time frames does not result in approval by default of the application to use SSL.
  • Regulatory authorizations are processed by the Department, as well as the Suwannee River Water Management District, the St. Johns River Water Management District, the Southwest Florida Water Management District, and the South Florida Water Management District (WMDs). An activity-based division of responsibilities between the agencies is used to determine which agency will process which permit application. The applicant interacts with only one state agency.

The second amendment, Section 18-21.0051, F.A.C., known as the delegation rule, gives the decision-making authority of the Board of Trustees, for certain* actions regarding the use of sovereign submerged lands, to the Department and to the above cited water management districts. The delegation shortens the time and reduces the number of levels of review for the proprietary decision-making process. The delegation also facilitates the concurrent processing of the linked applications (proprietary and regulatory) by the Department and the Districts, as described previously. 

  • *Projects meeting the following thresholds are not delegated, and must appear before the Board of Trustees:
  • Docking facilities with more than 50 slips & modifications consisting of the addition of more than 10% of the number of existing slips where the total of the existing and proposed number of slips is more than 50;
  • Docking facilities having a preempted area of more than 50,000 sq. ft. & modifications consisting of the addition of more than 10% of the existing preempted area where the total of the existing and preempted area is more than 50,000 sq. ft.;
  • Private easements of more than 5 ac.;
  • The establishment of a mitigation bank; or
  • Any project found to be of concern to one or more Board member.
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Last Modified:
April 11, 2018 - 1:04pm

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