A project to rebuild the beaches and dunes near Dellanera Park provides an interesting look into how decisions are being made in the era after Severance v. Patterson, the landmark ruling on the Texas Open Beaches Act.

The Galveston Park Board of Trustees and the Texas General Land Office have coordinated this $4.3 million project. The private landowners involved are granting static easements, rather than rolling easements.

Until the Severance case, public access to eroding beaches had been guaranteed by the concept of a rolling easement, an easement that moves inland as the beach erodes. The Severance case changed that view.

Private property owners on the West End had lobbied for millions of dollars of beach reconstruction projects with static, rather than rolling, easements. People opposed to the idea of spending money on beaches where the public’s right to access is a bit dicey have expressed concerns about setting precedents.

But it appears this project is a one-time deal. Texas Land Commissioner Jerry Patterson has made it clear that he is not interested in major beach reconstruction work on the West End without solid guarantees of public access. He’s also indicated he will ask the legislature to spell out what kind of easement is required to use public funds on beaches where public access is questionable.

Most of the local funding comes from the city of Galveston — $1.2 million for dune restoration — and the park board — $2.3 million from the Federal Emergency Management Agency for beach reconstruction. Folks who live at SeaScape condominiums, who lost a Geotube during the storm, are contributing $30,000. The General Land Office has earmarked $700,000 from the federal funds available to Texas through the Coastal Erosion Protection and Response Act.

The deadline on the FEMA money is coming up in October 2013. And, after Hurricane Sandy hit the East Coast, demand for federal relief dollars is high. No one in Texas really wants to see whether the federal government might take some of the money allocated for Galveston back if local governments can’t figure out a way to use it.

The other thing that’s unusual about this project is the critical importance of the site. The area just west of the seawall is the most vulnerable spot on the island in terms of the damage that could be done by erosion. Some state maps show there’s a danger that erosion could cut through FM 3005, which would isolate the West End.

The combination of the critical need to protect that area and the looming deadline on federal funding seem to have been driving this deal.

The design work, which has started, will take about six months. It will take another couple of months to get bids. But by October, it’s possible that crews will be putting sand on the beach.

By the way, a consultant is studying the possibility of an offshore structure in the area that would slow erosion, catching and gradually releasing sand to replenish West End beaches.

Decades from now, some future historian might want to know how Texans began rebuilding beaches after the landmark court case. The first step was a careful, thoughtful effort led by the park board, the city, the General Land Office and private landowners.


(3) comments

William Penn

Sad to see that both Galveston and federal funds are going to be used to protect private land. Both my father and grandfather said it was foolish to build "out there" beyond protection of the seawall. Now we can see the costly fruits of that poor decision.

Bill Broussard

Heber: Because of current events, this article might leave readers a bit confused by the narrative.

First and foremost, the project is approved and funded to protect FM 3005 and the condos are just an artifact or otherwise the GLO would not be in the deal. Mr. Patterson has said time and again publicly that he would not use public money to protect private property.

Second: There may be a motion to come before Council asking that the City of Galveston set more beach easments. Worst case for beachfront homeowners is only easements to carry trash. Best case for homeowners on the beach: easements that set 200’ mean low tide as the place where public land starts going South. You mention such an easement in your column for this project.

The single worst thing the City could ever do is start setting easements. As soon as static easements are set, public land becomes the job of the City to maintain and of course, public land is the small sliver that stands between the sea and private property..

Consider this, the City sets building easements at 200’ MLT all along west beach. The beach erodes at 2-7 inches per year. If the beach erodes up to the City-set easement, then homeowners will sue because the GLO- by severance- can take land claimed by erosion but the City, by setting the easement, has the implied duty to preserve the 200’ and not allow the the sea to reach property owners and erode even if the City never lays a grain of sand beyond 200’ MLT.

Plus, by virtue of easements, the liability for anyone getting injured while running on the beach would shift from the current property owners to the City immediately.

If you consider that the Condos were built on an area of the City that has seen the worst erosion of any other place for many, many years (I know in the 70's that the area under construction is the place where the Island could breach) and the City approved construction right on that area knowing full well it could, can you wonder why the Land Commissioner who is now owner of almost 2/3 of the development going on thin the city might just be upset with this town?

Then, of course, we approve a high rise on the Poretto beach area in front of the seawall and ask Patterson to help us stave off Texas Windstorm rates while our homeowners defeat him in court at Severance. I think we look like idiots

The best rule of thumb is do not take the GLO’s job of easements away and just don’t set them ever. Second best, if the GLO is a partner, it might be ok. If they are not involved, do not touch it.

Of the many fine things Craig Brown has done as Chair of the Park board, getting out of the easement business ranks high on the best of all list.


How come the Teabillys in the city government aren't refusing Fed $$$?

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