On June 7, Texas Land Commissioner Jerry Patterson announced his “Plan for Texas Open Beaches.” Patterson made $1.3 million in state money available to remove houses on the public beach.
The announcement came at the end of a two-year enforcement moratorium for houses violating the Texas Open Beaches Act, which guarantees public access to the state’s Gulf-facing beaches. Under state law, anything seaward of the natural line of vegetation is considered public beach.
The moratorium, issued by Patterson in 2004, suspended for two years the ability of state and local officials to file lawsuits to remove houses from Texas Gulf Coast beaches. In an effort to avoid expensive court cases, Patterson offered up to $40,000—now $50,000—to help property owners move their structures away from the public beach.
Twenty property owners applied for reimbursement eligibility before the October 2, 2006 deadline. “It’s my duty to enforce the Texas Open Beaches Act, but it’s my hope to be able to work with these property owners and avoid costly litigation,” Patterson said.
In announcing the funding, Patterson also released eight proposals he will pursue to strengthen the Open Beaches Act and ensure public access to Texas beaches. His Plan for Texas Open Beaches makes it clear the Land Office will retain litigation as an option, but will also identify alternative means to address the problem.
“The time to act is now,” Patterson said. “As long as there is erosion of the Texas coast, this problem will not go away. I believe these proposals are a fair and equitable way to preserve public access to the beach while honoring private property rights.”
Patterson’s plan calls for a variety of new ideas to be applied to private structures on public beaches, for example:
- Allow the Land Commissioner discretion to determine which houses on the beach constitute a public health and safety threat. This will allow the Land Commissioner to better prioritize efforts to remove houses that are in violation of the Texas Open Beaches Act.
- Adopt new rules to allow owners of houses on the beach to get repair permits or hook up to public utilities, as they could under the moratorium, but without protection from removal actions.
- Offer $1.3 million in initial state financial assistance to remove houses from the beach due to severe erosion of the Texas coast and seek additional funding.
Items that will be sought during the 80th Legislature include an agenda that if enacted would:
- Create fines and criminal penalties for those who willfully erect structures that hinder access to the beach.
- Deny state-funded windstorm insurance coverage for structures on the public beach based upon criteria set by the Land Commissioner.
- Study setbacks for new construction and seek additional authority for counties.
- Make the provisions of the Open Beaches Act clear to buyers—in plain language—on disclosures for all coastal property transactions.
Reference: On the Coast
General Land Office (GLO)State Funding to Protect Texas Beaches
Once upon a time, billboards, a landfill and a dumping ground for old tires intruded on marshland along Interstate 45 in Galveston. Not only were they bad for wildlife, they were often the first things tourists saw as they drove into the city.
But that’s all in the past now, thanks to the Coastal Impact Assistance Program (CIAP). The state’s portion of the 2001 CIAP helped fund 73 projects to protect and restore Galveston marshes.
Statewide, more than 6,300 acres of coastal property have been permanently protected and conserved by the 2001 CIAP, administered by the Texas General Land Office. In 2001, Congress gave money to Texas and six other coastal states to mitigate impacts from oil and gas production of the Outer Continental Shelf. This program recently came to an end, with Texas spending all of its $17.2 million on projects in the coastal zone. The GLO was careful to spend all the federal funding it received, said Texas Land Commissioner Jerry Patterson.
“It’s very unusual to not return any money when you’re dealing with a grant this size,” Patterson noted. “Inevitably, you have projects that drop off, and you scramble to identify worthy projects that can use the money instead. We were able to fund projects that are making a tremendous difference to our coast and its communities.”
Of the $17.2 million, the GLO administered $9.7 million, and the Coastal Coordination Council—chaired by Patterson—managed $7.5 million.
The 73 projects funded along the Texas coast achieved the:
- participation of 20,575 students and teachers in environmental education activities;
- removal from state waters and beaches of 64,000 pounds of debris, 21 sunken boats and three barges;
- restoration of 3,410 acres of coastal wetlands;
- construction of seven public parks and fishing piers; and
- purchase of 6,319 acres of coastal land, which will be permanently protected from development.
As the 2001 CIAP ends, the GLO is gearing up for the next round of the program, which Congress funded as part of the Energy Policy Act of 2005. Texas should get between $53 million and $70 million in 2007 under CIAP, with $34 million to $45 million awarded for state projects through competitive grants.
When project nominations were solicited in June, 349 projects were nominated, which would cost more than $777 million to fund. From the nominations submitted, 118 projects were selected for possible state grants.
The Coastal Land Advisory Board will consider staff funding recommendations at an open public meeting in January. Funding preference will be given to projects meeting the goals of the Texas CIAP program—“to conserve, restore, enhance, and protect the diversity, quality, quantity, functions, and values of the state’s coastal natural resources including, but not limited to, any effects of oil and gas development of the Outer Continental Shelf.” Members of the advisory board include Land Commissioner Jerry Patterson (chairman), Railroad Commissioner Elizabeth Jones and Texas Transportation Commissioner John Johnson.
Reference: On the Coast