By DAVID DEWHURST, GARRY MAURO and JERRY PATTERSON
Among coastal states Texas is unique. The 1959 Texas Open Beaches Act, as well as time-honored common law and tradition in existence since long before 1959, provides that Texas beaches are open to the public. In 2009, Texans voted by a 77 percent to 23 percent margin to enshrine the Open Beaches Act into the Texas Constitution.
Unfortunately, public access to Texas beaches may soon end if legislation filed in Austin passes into law.
Senate Bill 434, by Sen. Mayes Middleton of Galveston, would strip the authority of the Texas General Land Office to define the boundaries of the public beach and would allow the upland beachfront property owner to make that determination.
The property owner could then deny access to the public beach easement that existed between the line of vegetation and the mean high tide mark. That would then limit Texas beachgoers’ access to only what is known as the “wet beach” — the area between the low tide and the high tide lines. When that area is washed by waves during periods of high tide, SB 434 would result in there being no beach at all for Texans to use.
If SB 434 passes, don’t be surprised if you show up at your favorite beach spot and you’re confronted with a fenced off beach or no trespassing signs. The only remedy available to you then would be a suit against the adjacent upland landowner.
Yes, on your next trip to the beach you should consider bringing along your lawyer. You should also be prepared to drag your kids, your cooler and your beach gear through the shallow tidal waters in order to enjoy the beach.
Beachfront property owners can’t claim ignorance of the public beach easement. Since 1986, they have received notice of the public beach easement in the documents they signed at closing.
Ironically, SB 434 doesn’t just hurt Texas beachgoers, it hurts beachfront property owners as well. Public money must be spent for a public purpose. The land office and local governments will be unable to spend money on improving property with no public access.
There will be no beach renourishment projects, no beach cleanup and no beach maintenance in areas where property owners claim the beach has no public access easement.
There is currently an expansive beach renourishment project ready to go at Jamaica Beach on Galveston Island that will be canceled. In addition, developers of coastal property will be handicapped if the land office is no longer able to determine survey data needed to designate set back lines for coastal construction.
Please join us in opposing SB 434. Contact your State Senators and State Representatives.
You can find their contact information at Texas Legislature Online at www.capitol.texas.gov.
God Bless Texas.
David Dewhurst, Garry Mauro and Jerry Patterson are former Texas Land Commissioners.