The county will seize Rollover Pass — a popular fishing spot on Bolivar Peninsula — in the coming week after a district court judge ruled it has eminent domain authority over the land and approved its application for possession.
County Court at Law Judge Barbara Roberts ruled Wednesday the county has the eminent domain rights to condemn the property on Bolivar Peninsula known as Rollover Pass, according to court documents. The order granted the county the authority to seize the land in seven days.
The judge has not yet ruled on how much the county must pay for the 16 acres owned by the Gulf Coast Rod, Reel and Gun Club, which operates a recreation business at the highly-trafficked fishing spot, which now appears likely to be closed. An attorney for the club could not be reached Friday.
The county meanwhile will soon begin work on plans to fill the pass, a man-made cut connecting Galveston Bay and the Gulf of Mexico, and build a public park where it was.
“The county has waited a long time to begin this important project, so it’s important that we got this ruling so we can move forward,” said Ken McKay, an attorney representing Galveston County in the condemnation suit.
Roberts’ ruling is the latest in a yearslong battle between Rollover Pass landowners and federal, state and local governments over the plan to close the pass and, most recently, seize the land.
Gulf Coast Rod, Reel and Gun Club, which owns about 16 acres around Rollover Pass, has been fighting the closure on several fronts since state lawmakers in 2009 appropriated about $6 million to fill in the pass.
The pass was created through a public-private partnership and dredged by the state in 1954. It cuts through land, creating a fast-moving stream across the peninsula between the Gulf and Galveston Bay.
But the pass causes erosion and the state argues it costs taxpayers at least $650,000 a year to rebuild beaches around the pass and even more to dredge the Intercoastal Waterway because the pass channels sand into it. Those opposed to the closure have argued the state’s assessments of the pass’ effects are based on flawed science.
Because the state does not have condemnation authority, Galveston County commissioners voted to seize the land so it can be used to create a park.
In January 2016, County Judge Mark Henry and County Commissioners Ryan Dennard, Stephen Holmes and Ken Clark voted to use eminent domain to take the property.
Landowners immediately fought the closure, contesting the county’s condemnation suit.
On Wednesday, Roberts issued a two-page ruling asserting the county had met the requirements to take possession of the land. A trial is set for June and the judge will determine the value of the land, McKay said.
The club is still fighting the closure in federal court.
The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers in 2012 approved a land office request for a Clean Water Permit to close Rollover Pass. In 2013, the Gulf Coast Rod, Reel & Gun Club and the Gilchrist Community Association sued in federal court in Galveston challenging the permit.
In December 2015, the U.S. District Court Southern District of Texas ruled the corps permit was valid. On Jan. 19, a panel for the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit upheld the lower court’s ruling. The closure of Rollover Pass is still caught up in federal litigation.