No doubt as well that many of you have heard of the ominous-sounding legal battle for control of the Gulf of Mexico's beaches - those beaches on the west end of Galveston Island in particular. I sure as heck am not an attorney so the usual disclaimers apply, but I'll recap with a very short and incomplete list of notable developments pertaining to this issue. Then below this summary, I'll follow up with some observations regarding some head-scratching circumstances that are manifesting in the proverbial Real World:
- Texas has always believed and has legislated that beaches are public, not private, property. In 2009, Texas overwhelmingly approved a Constitutional amendment that most of us hoped would strengthen this interpretation.
- Because beaches are therefore publicly-owned, when erosion causes private beach-front houses to end up seaward of the natural vegetation line (which erosion will always do, and at swift rates), the landowners essentially forfeit their title to the land and must move their houses.
- An out-of-state owner named Carol Severance sued when the state attempted to "take" her rental property which had ended up on the public beach. She reportedly alleged unreasonable seizure, among other things.
- To the surprise of many, after long and complex litigation, the Supreme Court found that there was in fact no "rolling easement" created by the Texas Open Beaches Act. The rolling easement had been the concept that defined public vs. private areas, so this ruling essentially nullified the beach access rights of the public.
- This ruling was interpreted to mean that there was no public beach west of the seawall on Galveston.
- As a result, a $40 million beach nourishment project was abruptly cancelled for fear that it would amount to a publicly-funded improvement of private property, which is obviously against the law. There were calls to limit beach cleaning for the same reason.
- Naturally there is now considerable public pressure to revisit the Supreme Court's ruling and to deduce whether there is anything that can be done about this situation to reaffirm Texas' settled expectations (and Constitutional preference) regarding the division between public and private property.
I can't even begin to speculate, but here's the question that I find most interesting at this point: in the midst of all this ongoing legal wrangling, is anybody actually looking at what's happening with the beach?
Most of this stuff hinges upon the high tide line and the natural vegetation line in particular.
|Here's where things get interesting:|
the natural vegetation line appears to be trying to re-establish itself in areas considerably south of the current line of beach front homes,
|...despite the fact that billions of dollars of potentially-private property hinges on the location of this line of natural vegetation and the legalities surrounding it, people are driving vehicles and heavy equipment through it, inhibiting its growth and generally weakening the stability of the beach which is still recovering from Hurricane Ike and earlier events such as Hurricane Rita. Vegetation roots are critically important in holding sand in place, but they can't do that if they are torn up by motor vehicles, which is what's happening here, where a make-shift road divides and fragments the newly-growing clumps of plants.|
|Apparently the directive "Don't Tread On Me" does not apply here. Where is that "Don't Mess with Texas" spirit when it's needed?|
Are there some fundamental considerations that I just don't grasp, or is this situation a little bit bonkers?!
Some vegetation appears to be trying to recover on Galveston's west end. Specifically it appears to be trying to extend itself seaward, which is the one desirable result that EVERYBODY can agree upon, and yet it's being jeopardized like this, to the apparent peril of the public and private landowners alike.
Is anybody even noticing that it's happening? Not that I could tell from looking at the scene two days ago. But of course, if this truly is private property, at this point maybe it's questionable as to whether the state or local governments could intervene to inhibit this type of damage.
Yes, the Texas Open Beaches Act and its attendant regulatory instruments (including Galveston's Beach Access Plan) do guarantee motor vehicle access to the beach, especially west of the seawall. But at the same time, the destruction of dunes, dune vegetation, and wildlife is generally prohibited.
|Excerpted from the City ordinances presented at www.municode.com|
|Excerpted from the Galveston County Dune Protection and Beach Access Plan.|
|Bright lights, no big city:|
Here comes another vehicle down the beach face.
|Is this ours, or is it theirs?|
Was I trespassing two days ago when I took this photo,
or was I exercising my rights as a Texan?