WASHINGTON — The Supreme Court ruled on Thursday that Florida can undertake beach-widening projects without paying beachfront property owners who lose exclusive access to the water.

The court, by an 8-0 vote, rejected a challenge by six homeowners in Florida’s Panhandle who argued that a beach-widening project changed their oceanfront property into ocean view. Justice John Paul Stevens took no part in the case in which the court affirmed an earlier ruling.

Private property advocates had hoped the court would rule for the first time that a court decision can amount to a taking of property.

The court’s four conservatives — Chief Justice John Roberts and Justices Samuel Alito, Antonin Scalia and Clarence Thomas — were prepared to rule that way, even though the homeowners still would have lost in this case, Scalia said in his opinion for the court. But they lacked a fifth vote.

Florida Department of Environmental Protection Secretary Michael Sole called the decision “a reasonable balance between public and private interests in the shore.”

“Implementation of the erosion control program and beach nourishment provides a significant level of storm protection benefits for upland properties and infrastructure,” Sole said.

He said it also restores plant and animal habitat and improves the recreational value of beaches, which draw 27 million visitors a year and pump billions into Florida’s economy.

The property owners’ lawyers, Kent Safriet and Richard Brightman, issued a statement saying they were disappointed and fearful the ruling “will lead to more incidences of government unfairly taking private property away from hard-working citizens.”

They added they were encouraged, though, that four justices “joined in an opinion recognizing that the judicial branch of government is not insulated from the protections afforded to private property rights by the U.S. Constitution.”

The Constitution requires governments to pay “just compensation” when they take private property for public use.

The homeowners said a Florida Supreme Court ruling in favor of the erosion-control project “suddenly and dramatically changed” state law on beach property and caused their property values to decline. The homeowners wanted the state to pay them undetermined compensation for “taking” their property, which Florida law had long recognized as extending to the water line at high tide.

The Florida decision ratified the designation of the new sand along nearly seven miles of storm-battered beach that stretches through Destin and neighboring Walton County as public property, depriving the homeowners of the exclusive beach access they previously enjoyed.

Stevens sat out the case, presumably because he owns an apartment in an oceanfront building in Ft. Lauderdale. The area has been slated for a similar erosion-control project.