GILCHRIST — The four-year battle over the future of Rollover Pass appears to be entering it’s final phase as the county prepares to seek eminent domain to help the state shut down the popular Bolivar Peninsula fishing spot. Local activists and the association claiming ownership of the pass are promising a fight to the bitter end.
After Hurricane Ike wiped out almost all of Gilchrist in 2008, officials with the Texas General Land Office sought to shut down the pass, which was created in the mid-1950s through a public-private partnership to connect the Gulf with East Galveston Bay.
Land Commissioner Jerry Patterson, citing erosion problems along the Gulf of Mexico side of Bolivar and more than $1 million annually the state spent on maintaining and dredging the pass, secured legislative approval and $6 million to close the pass.
But members of the small but vocal Gilchrist Community Association and the Gulf Coast Rod, Reel and Gun Club — the private group that owns the land on either side of the 1,600-foot-long channel — are fighting the closure.
Last year, the land office got the go-ahead from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to close the pass. A few weeks ago, the state asked the county to help do its part and seek eminent domain to facilitate closure and filling in the pass, County Judge Mark Henry said.
That move drew the ire of the folks wanting to keep the pass open.
“The Gilchrist Community Association maintains that the state of Texas has no legal right (under the 1950s agreement) to decide at this date to close Rollover Pass,” association president Ted Vega said. “It is high time that the bullying from the state government stops.”
For the county’s part, Henry said the county is in no position to fight the state over an issue that he believes has already been decided. He said that after years of back and forth, it was time to move on.
Henry said the state has promised to replace the pass with a large fishing pier that the state would maintain and would provide similar access for anglers as the pass did.
Not so, Rollover Pass defenders say.
“Is this an effort to support the rich beach-front owners over the current users of the pass?” Vegas asked. “We believe the (eminent domain) effort, if undertaken, would violate the Texas and United States constitutions.
“We believe this is being done for the good of private property owners at the expense of the public, exactly the opposite of the basis for the use of the power of (eminent domain).”
Vega argued that the association proposed alternative plans to the state but have been ignored. His organization and the club have hired environmental attorney Jim Blackburn to help in the legal fight.
Calls to Blackburn’s office last week were not returned.
Henry said he was not sure how long the eminent domain process would take or what route the county would have to go to get it done.
Recently hired County Attorney Robert Boemer said he had not yet discussed with the county judge the county’s legal strategy.