Ocean Law: Homesteading at Sea

Under the Homestead Act of 1862, squatters took possession of millions of free acres of land in the West, but now there is not much worthwhile public land available. A few years ago, a Louisiana contractor named Louis Ray tried to establish himself as a homesteader on one of the last frontiers. Ray made a claim to several acres of coral reef that lay barely submerged five miles off the Florida coast.

Acting for a group of investors—and without Government permission—Ray started building a small island on the reefs off Elliot Key. He...

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