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.