County commissioners could soon enact laws to restrict camping on Bolivar Peninsula beaches under a law passed by the Texas Legislature this year.
Texas Gov. Greg Abbott signed House Bill 1628 into law Saturday. The bill doesn’t create any new policies for camping on Texas beaches, but does allow county governments to create “reasonable rules on camping, access, litter, resource protection, or waste disposal” on beaches.
Commissioner Darrell Apffel, whose precinct includes Bolivar Peninsula, said the new rules could allow the county to address complaints about people who squat on local beaches and live there for extended periods of time.
Such campsites don’t have permanent or sanitary bathrooms and amount to litter on the beach, Apffel said.
“We have a problem now where people reside on the beaches,” he said.
The law allows counties to create rules for people camping on beaches, and the county could fine people $500 for violating the rules.
A Texas Senate analysis of the bill said it was meant to address complaints of “massive garbage piles” being left on some Texas beaches.
The county has been working on its own proposals for beach camping regulations, Apffel said. To do that, the county has to receive approval of the Texas General Land Office.
Last year, Apffel proposed changing the county’s beach access plan to prohibit people from staying on Bolivar beaches for more than 14 days in a row. The rule is similar to one already in place in Brazoria County. He said Friday that a Galveston County proposal was still being reviewed by the land office.
Beaches on Bolivar Peninsula are largely unregulated and have fewer rules than the beaches inside Galveston’s city limits. The city of Galveston has rules that discourage people from camping on its beaches, including bans on tents being set up on the beach and on making campfires. The county has no such rules.
The new state law appears to allow even more latitude for what the county can regulate on the beaches, although Apffel said he didn’t know what steps the county might take next.
He did not foresee the new law being used to try to stop events like Jeep Weekend. The large annual social-media organized beach party last week led to the arrest of more than 100 people and at least six major vehicle crashes.
Most of the people who come to the beach for Jeep Weekend only camp out for a couple days, Apffel said. A ban on short stays such as the ones that happen throughout the summer would not be reasonable, he said.
“You want people to come down and to camp on the beach, from Thursday to Monday, with no problems,” Apffel said.