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A clean beach, but at what price? - The Galveston County Daily News: Guest Columns

July 25, 2016

A clean beach, but at what price?

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Posted: Thursday, July 3, 2014 12:00 am

I read Daily News reporter John Wayne Ferguson’s recent paean to the public spiritedness of West End beach-front property owners for taking the bull and the expense by the horns to provide clean beaches for themselves and any other beachgoers who brave the imposing presence of huge million-and-more dollar houses close to the beach.

Their generosity is especially appreciated by all considering the many hundreds of tons of sargassum deposited on the beaches. It would be a pity to pay so much to build so close to the beach and not be able to frolic there as often as possible.

I’m especially grateful when I look out my front window and see the damage to 3- to 4-foot dunes forming at the beach edge and to vegetation by deep- treaded tractors pulling the “state-of-the-art” raking machines that purportedly don’t remove sand with seaweed.

Ours was the first house built in The Dunes of West Beach subdivision more than 16 years ago.

We have a front-row view of the beach raking operation commissioned by our homeowners association on our half-mile of beach front.

Excuse me for being overly and reflexively possessive. I know it’s not really our beach; it belongs to the people of Texas. Anyhow, it pains us because we know the history of what it took to build and to preserve this broad and high stretch of beach, dunes and vegetation.

Bill Rathbun, the first president of our homeowners association, came to us early on with a proposal to have the Park Board stop raking our beach, which it then did on all 30 miles of Galveston. He cited his research that showed that raking removed sand and vegetation, causing the beach to become lower and promoting further wave-induced erosion. He convinced the few of us, and we petitioned the Park Board.

At first Park Board officials resisted, but finally agreed with the proviso that they have Texas A&M University at Galveston monitor the results. Soon, it became clear that the resulting building up of the beach, dunes and supporting vegetation had elevated our beach and environs above our raking neighbors’ as evidenced by how much further back high-tide waters came on their beach.

This is especially noticeable on our neighbor Silverleaf’s frontage, where the beach is raked aggressively daily all the way to the dunes.

This is noticeable even to the naked eye. The Park Board subsequently suspended all West End raking.

Today, we have the highest and widest and the only accreting beach front on the West End.

My pain is not necessarily from the raking of the beach area but it is to the destructive maneuvering of the tractors breaching the 3- to 4-feet high beach-edge dunes and denuding the broad and lush dunes vegetation to dump the seaweed perhaps 100 feet back in the futile hope of forming a “super dune” protective wall built on an unstable seaweed base.

I can only cite the fate of the 16- or 17-feet tall dunes naturally formed on a firmer base of layers of sand and entwined vegetation that existed before Hurricane Ike. The mere 6- to 8-feet storm surge of Ike flattened these natural dunes.

There are those who look upon the dunes vegetation as “weeds” to be disposed of in favor of an open breadth of sand, an infinitely wide beach. One man’s weeds are the General Land Office’s dunes vegetation, which it recognizes as the glue that holds this island together.

Frank J. Bowser lives on Galveston’s West End.