Bolivar Peninsula has been a part of Galveston County longer than Texas has been a part of the United States.
But the county’s new state representative says he wants to hear people’s opinions about putting the peninsula somewhere else.
State Rep. Mayes Middleton announced Thursday he would hold a meeting at a Bolivar Peninsula restaurant next month to talk about “moving High Island and Bolivar to Chambers County.”
The meeting, and the idea of boundary changes, caught some county leaders off guard.
The 27-mile-long Bolivar Peninsula is a narrow strip of land that stretches north from the Galveston Ship Channel to the Chambers County line. The peninsula is accessible only two ways: by a state highway from the north or by ferry from Galveston across the ship channel.
High Island is one of five unincorporated communities on the peninsula — along with Gilchrist, Caplen, Crystal Beach and Port Bolivar. About 2,200 people live on the peninsula, according to the U.S. Census Bureau, although the population balloons with visitors and part-time residents in the summer.
In a statement to The Daily News, Middleton said his call for the meeting was based on discussions he had while on the campaign trail last year.
“During my campaign, I knocked on many doors and spoke with many people in Bolivar and High Island,” Middleton said. “One issue that was consistently brought to my attention was moving the area from Galveston County to Chambers County. I am hosting this Town Hall to listen to my constituents and have an open discussion about the issue.”
Through an aide, Middleton said he didn’t have a personal preference about which county the peninsula was in.
His main concern was that people be heard, the aide said.
Galveston County officials said Middleton’s announcement was the first they’d heard about calls for the peninsula to leave the county.
“I was surprised,” said Galveston County Commissioner Darrell Apffel, whose precinct includes Bolivar
Apffel said he was sitting in a meeting with a community advisory group on the peninsula talking about local issues when he received the email about the meeting. The topic of seceding from Galveston County had not come up, Apffel said.
“I would say Galveston is a much richer and more developed county than Chambers County,” Apffel said, adding that he considered Bolivar Peninsula to be the county’s “crown jewel.”
Still, there may be some sense in moving the peninsula, officials said. There’s about $1.3 billion of taxable property on the peninsula, according to an estimate provided by the Galveston County Central Appraisal District. But the tax revenue collected from that property is about equal to what the county spends on services on the peninsula, officials said.
As it does with other unincorporated area, the county pays for Galveston County Sheriffs Office deputies to patrol the peninsula and for the county parks department to maintain public parks and beaches, among other things.
Bolivar Peninsula has been a part of Galveston County, since the county was created by the Republic of Texas in 1838, according to the Texas General Land Office, which maintains state records, including historic maps of the state and its counties.
Many steps would be required to change the county line. The Texas Legislature would have to pass legislation permitting the change, and then residents of both counties would have to vote to approve the swap, officials said.
Middleton is a freshman state representative who was elected in November. He defeated former Republican state Rep. Wayne Faircloth in the 2018 primaries. As a state representative from Chambers County, Middleton is also something of a legislative anomaly. In the history of the Texas Legislature, the only two other state representatives have hailed from Chambers County.
Inheriting the peninsula isn’t a huge topic of concern in Chambers County, however, said Chambers County Judge Jimmy Sylvia.
“It kind of makes sense because it’s connected by land,” Sylvia said. He would have to see estimates about cost and benefits before deciding whether adopting the peninsula was a good idea, however, he said. And the first word about who Bolivar should belong to should come from the people who live there, he said.
Sylvia had discussed the idea with Middleton before, he said. Like other officials, Thursday was the first time he’d heard of the meeting. Sylvia said he would try to attend.
This isn’t the first time that elected leaders have broached the topic of Bolivar leaving Galveston County.
In 2012, Galveston County Judge Mark Henry said planned to poll peninsula residents about their desires leave or to stay in the county. Any progress on that discussion ended after other people told Henry they weren’t interested in a change.
“All of a sudden they started blasting me for trying to get rid to them,” Henry said
Henry said he had no ill will toward Middleton for having a conversation about what peninsula residents want.
Rumblings about a change precede Henry’s brief flirtation with the idea, by a long shot.
In May 1937, J. H. Bugg, president of the High Island-Bolivar Peninsula Chamber of Commerce, told The Galveston Daily News that Bolivar wanted to free itself from Galveston County because of a failure to provide the peninsula a place for holding prisoners late at night after the ferry to Galveston had stopped running.
The peninsula wasn’t appreciated, Bugg said, according to the paper.
“He thinks Chambers County would give it the attention it deserves,” the paper wrote.
The community meeting is planned for Feb. 9 at the Stingaree Restaurant, 1295 N. Stingaree Drive, in Crystal Beach.