Special to the PRESS
In 1959, Texas passed and ratified the Texas Open Beaches Act, a landmark public trust doctrine that declared that all Texans and visitors to Texan Gulf Coast Beaches had the right to access and use the Gulf facing beaches of Texas. The Natural Resources and Administrative Codes that have accompanied this very progressive protection of the public trust went on to protect this right and in 2009, Texans went to the polls and by a 3-to-1 margin elected to enshrine the core of the Texas Open Beaches Act into the Texas Constitution and Bill of Rights.
Unfortunately, the Texas Supreme Court completely bypassed the state constitution and the voters and decided to eviscerate the OBA in Galveston by taking away a key component in the Severance v. Patterson case, the rolling easement which actually put the risk of development on the property owners, protecting the taxpayer from having to bail out a few property owners who took that risk and allowed the public beach to move, acknowledging the dynamics of the beach. In a state that supposedly prides itself on the conservative values of personal responsibility and not using public money to bail out private interests, the OBA is the perfect fit. Unfortunately, as with all political ideologies, there is a great amount of hypocrisy and Severance has opened the door for it all to come out. Fortunately, the ruling only applies to Galveston, though many in other areas have decided to challenge it.
Galveston is ground zero. That is where almost everything is being tested Post-Severance although Cameron County’s Dune Protection Committee is making an effort in trying to take advantage and throw the reigns of responsible development out of the picture. The latest challenge in Galveston comes in the form of a land claim by Frank Maceo. He claims that his family has owned a portion of land in front of the Galveston Sea Wall and has staked it out as his own private beach.
There are several problems with his claim. One being that more likely than not, actually bordering on definitely, that land at one time or another has been submerged by the Gulf of Mexico and became state land under Texas Law. The second being Under State Law this land can only be reclaimed through natural accretion and not publicly funded beach renourishment projects which have happened multiple times in the past in his area. With his claim, the rebuilding of the beach in Galveston is under threat. In essence, Mr. Maceo doesn’t have a leg to stand on.
So what does this have to do with South Padre Island or any other beach in Texas? Well it is simple. As these cases develop, they essentially empower others who would like to develop irresponsibly closer to the water line and establish their own private beaches to continually challenge the OBA and the state endangering the Public Beach, the Taxpayer and other Property Owners along the Texas Coast by losing state and federal funded projects that help enhance the beach and, in turn, protect them. I have heard many times from proponents of developing closer that the Private Property Owners will pony up the money to protect their investment. The sad truth is they cannot afford the millions of dollars it would cost to do this so what ends up happening is a piecemeal conglomeration of seawalls, sandbags and rip-rap that end up protecting a property in the short term but end up doing erosional damage to properties on either side while exacerbating erosion of the public beach.
The Open Beaches Act and its accompanying regulations all addressed this and weakening it ends up costing the state and the public huge sums of money while losing the public benefit of the beach which also contributes to the local municipality’s tax rolls through generated sales tax from businesses and rentals that benefit from the tourism generated by the public beach.
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