Despite an agreement that guarantees beach cleaning in the event of seaweed inundation, residents of some West End communities still worry their beaches won’t be clean enough this summer.

After a move last year that disallowed private contractors from operating under its beach cleaning permit, the Galveston Park Board of Trustees last month agreed to clean West End beaches of seaweed under specific conditions.

According to the agreement, the park board will clean the beaches of neighborhood associations who sign up when seaweed builds up to 2 1/2 feet high and 10 feet wide or covers 50 percent of a property.

But that would not be frequent enough for some residents, said Bob Dolgin, president of the Sandhill Shores Property Owners Association.

“Why is it that Florida beaches, even on the Gulf Coast, can go ahead and clean their beaches on a daily basis?” Dolgin said.

Beaches that look dirty can deter tourists, he said. Members of his neighborhood would rather hire a contractor to clean beaches as often as they want, he said.

The park board cleans beaches under a U.S. Army Corps of Engineers permit, which involved a costly, lengthy process to obtain, park board officials said.

Although it previously allowed private companies to operate under its permit, the board revoked that privilege last year amid claims a company had violated terms of the permit.

The permit is required for using heavy equipment that might cause environmental harm and requires the permit holder to take steps to prevent that harm.

Sargassum, a type of seaweed, does provide some ecological benefits to Galveston beaches, but the positives might not outweigh the economic losses associated with decreased tourism, said Rusty Feagin, a professor at Texas A&M University.

He studies coastal ecology and published a 2007 article about potential costs and benefits of sargassum on beaches and conducted new research last year, he said.

“It doesn’t really affect the beach elevation over time in a significant way,” Feagin said.

In the short term, seaweed build-up protects the shore against erosion from the waves, but he’s not sure that effect lasts years over years, he said.

Sargassum does provide ecological benefits, but pushing it off the beach, closer to the dunes, could have benefits for tourism that are more significant than any environmental costs, he said.

“I don’t think it’s the end of the world,” Faegin said.

But sargassum in Galveston is an essential part of the ecology, said Joanie Steinhaus, program manager with Turtle Island Restoration Network.

The nonprofit promotes sea turtle and beach health.

“These homeowners think that seaweed is a health hazard and it’s not a health hazard,” Steinhaus said. “There’s no need to clean daily.”

No matter what people want, the beach cleaning has to stay within the bounds of the park board’s permit, said Peggy Zahler, vice president of the West Galveston Island Property Owners Association.

“I understand if you’re in for the investment, you want a pristine beach,” Zahler said. “I understand that seaweed does serve a very productive purpose on the beach.”

Some states have much more pristine beaches than Texas does, but those states have different rules, she said.

The Sandhill Shores association will likely sign the park board permit because otherwise, no one will be able to clean the area beach at all, Dolgin said.

The Army Corps of Engineers is working on a cheaper permit that homeowners associations or companies could obtain to clean beaches, but that permit likely won’t be ready for several years, park board officials said.

Keri Heath: 409-683-5241; or on Twitter @HeathKeri.

(16) comments

Don Schlessinger

I haven't kept up with what's going on along the beach recently, are these private beaches, and is public money being used to do this beach cleaning? It's hard to trust anything the PB does on the west end.

Rusty Schroeder

AMEN, Don. Kinda like the old phrase "wouldn't trust them farther than I could throw them".

Allison Buchtien

If they want a sargassum free beach they can get out there with their hand rakes

Rusty Schroeder

I'm so sick of this whining over private beaches. From the sea turtles, still don't have an actual number, to the sargassum on the beach. I'm with Allison, get some rakes and clean it yourself, it's the homeowners whose pocketbooks get fat with the renting of their beach front homes. Park Board shouldn't spend a dime cleaning these beaches until the bollards are removed and they are free access to everyone, even the turtles.

Galveston Park Board

Just to clarify one point - the requirements state that the beaches will be cleaned when the average height of the seaweed is 2.5’ or higher and ground cover width of 10’ or more OR 1.5’ or higher and ground cover width of 20’ or more AND the landing must impact greater than 50% of the HOA/POA linear footage. Below is a link to Florida's beach cleaning policy. All coastal communities have requirements and protections in place based on their environment.

Joanie Steinhaus

It depends on where in the state of Florida you are. On their beaches, the nesting density is so high that during nesting season (March 1 - Oct 31) mechanical beach cleaning is NOT allowed to occur. However, it does occur during nesting season on some beaches with varying levels of restrictions. In some locations, they hand rake portions of the beach when there is a built up of material. In some places, mechanical raking is allowed only BELOW the high tide line and in other areas it is allowed on all the sandy beach (avoiding vegetated areas). And in very few locations, they are allowed to mechanically rake as long as they wait for clearance from turtle patrol before they go out to the beach and all nests in the area have to be marked with a Buffer Area so that the beach cleaner can avoid the area.

Rusty Schroeder

How many nesting sea turtles on the west end beaches of Galveston ? There has to be some sort of records kept, how many were there last year?

Don Schlessinger

Typical PB BS, so you're saying yes you will be using public (my) money to clean private beaches this summer. Thanks!

Rusty Schroeder

We are in Galveston, TX. Not in Florida I want to know how many nesting sea turtles were recorded last year and the years before ? FYI, I worked for the County as Fleet Manager in the 90's, we cleaned the west end and Bolivar beaches with rubber tired maintainers with 12-14' mold boards. Picked up the seaweed and added it behind the dunes, also was involved in the implementation of the spearing of round hay bales on the west end. The TS Francis washed them into the bay in Sept. of '98 I believe. I have seen a lot of fixes for the beaches, I also have seen bollards sunk in the sand to limit Texans and tourists alike access. All in the name of sea turtles and erosion, when in truth it is for the benefit of several beach front HOA's. I would like an answer to my turtle question, only been asking about 6 months or so. rs

Miceal O'Laochdha

"...West End communities still worry their beaches won’t be clean enough this summer."

THEIR beaches?...THEIR problem. My front lawn? problem.

Rusty Schroeder

But the are public beaches, not private …….. Miceal have you ever considered any property yours that you didn't pay taxes on ? These beaches are like that, we all pay taxes on them, but they are far from ours ,,,,,,, they are "theirs".

Miceal O'Laochdha

Rusty, I understand and am in full agreement with you. I was not clear, I think. My point is the reporter is repeating the same old song that these are the West End owners' beaches. IF that were the case, then cleaning them is their problem BUT...these are NOT their beaches and they are NOT the same as their front lawn.

Rusty Schroeder

Exactly. It cracks me up that they keep referring to them as "their" beaches, but will argue the beach isn't private. Remove the bollards and make the beaches accessible to all, then they are our beaches once again.

George Croix

Do it for the turtles!!

Well played......

Rusty Schroeder

George do you ever find it curious that Joanie , Carol , and the Park Board never seem to answer 1 small question ? A question that should be very easy to answer for such a small stretch of beach. A beach that paid personnel ride on 4 wheelers daily looking and protecting nesting sea turtles. But no one has a count on how many nesting sea turtles there are on said beach. It makes one wonder if there are any nesting sea turtles on Galveston's West Beach, or just people looking for Lafitte's buried treasure.

George Croix

I don't find that lack of 'transparency' curious at all, Rusty.
I see no reason to be curious about when the answer is obvious....[beam][beam]

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