In the normal course of events, I wouldn’t write a guest column on a dull subject like static easements. Even the name — static easements — sounds stodgy and like something you might buy for your clothes dryer.
Taxes are a different matter. We’re all interested in taxes. We just passed the federal due date, and most of us have received property appraisals from the county. I’ll bet the value of your home has not gone down.
Henceforth, if anyone mentions static easements, think taxes instead. For most of us, beach static easements translate to new assessments or taxes.
A beach easement is a line in the sand. West End beach easements move north toward private property between 3 and 7 feet a year. When the beach erodes enough, the state will incorporate land for use as a public beach or close it to use entirely.
Since the Severance case, West End homeowners have argued that the best solution is to use static easements, or a line in the sand 200 feet from mean low tide that remains in existence regardless of erosion. Our current land commissioner has no use for static easements. The consequences to taxpayers are severe.
Using static easements means that when the beach erodes, the state of Texas, the county or the city would be responsible for hundreds of millions of dollars in sand just to keep a public beach in existence. If they don’t (or, more likely, don’t have the money), the state and city are helpless to define a new beach as erosion progresses.
The argument will be that they allowed the beach to erode past private land. Once an easement is static, it has to be maintained by taxpayers in perpetuity. If it isn’t, the state or the city will be seen as having given up its right to claim beach for the public. Even under Severance, the state can claim public beach if property loss is because of erosion. But, we lose that right once a static easement is established.
Hundreds of millions in taxpayer money is at stake in this discussion. It’s no wonder the state of Texas says no and beach-front property owners say yes.
Our current District 6 council member recently said, “Static easements are the only way to save the public beaches.” Like other Galveston myths, that’s not true. There are other ways less tax burdensome.
Taxpayers need be vigilant. There is one static easement already in existence at 108th Street. It was granted to restore sand purchased by the park board, city, state and private homeowners. The city did what is the land office’s prerogative, and now the city is on the legal hook.
From Land Office officials’ view, they never granted a public easement nor would they. Councilmember Marie Robb sold it as a one-off exception to preserve the FM 3005 escape route from a washout. To our park board and Robb, it’s the first of many yet to come. It’s a Robb platform plank.
Ask the candidates in your district what they think of static easements, then hear taxes about whatever they say.
Bill Broussard lives in Galveston.