AUSTIN, Texas -- The Texas Supreme Court has issued a new ruling placing private property rights ahead of the state’s Open Beaches Act.
The Texas court reheard the case after a federal appeals court questioned its first ruling. But the new ruling is essentially the same and says that if an act of nature erodes a beach, the landowner’s right to the remaining property is not diminished by state law, even if it is now part of the beach.
The Open Beaches Act states that a beach up to the vegetation line is open to the public. But following Hurricane Rita, the beach in Galveston shrank and moved onto private property, prompting a lawsuit. The court ruling Friday gives ownership of the beach to the property owner.
"It seems that the Open beach Act — at least for Galveston’s West End — is dead, thanks to the Supreme Court," Texas Land Commissioner Jerry Patterson said. "This is truly a sad day."
Patterson said the ruling ends any future possibility of much-needed beach renourishment projects for Galveston island’s rapidly eroding west end and will make it impossible for the state to step in quickly to clear the beach of debris after the next hurricane demolishes the front row.
After Hurricanes Ike and Dolly, the General Land Office spent $43 million to remove debris from the state’s beaches and bays.
"This ruling is bad news for Galveston," Patterson said. "It also gives a pretty big club to anyone who wants to challenge the Texas Open Beaches Act anywhere else along the coast."