Houston Matters

How a Court Ruling Could Affect the Public’s Access to Texas Beaches

The Texas Open Beaches Act was passed in 1959 and added to the state constitution in 2009. It guarantees the public the right to free and unrestricted access to Texas beaches along the state’s 367 miles of coastline. Those beaches are basically defined as the areas from the water to the vegetation lines. But what happens when […]

(Image courtesy: galvestonrv.com)

The Texas Open Beaches Act was passed in 1959 and added to the state constitution in 2009. It guarantees the public the right to free and unrestricted access to Texas beaches along the state’s 367 miles of coastline.

Those beaches are basically defined as the areas from the water to the vegetation lines. But what happens when those beaches disappear – either gradually from erosion or suddenly in the aftermath of a storm or hurricane? Does a home that was once farther from the beach suddenly become public property now that it’s right on the water?

That’s what brought Carol Severance to court. Severance owns several rental homes on Galveston Island. After Hurricane Rita pushed the vegetation line behind her house in 2005, her homes became public property. Severance sued, and in 2010, the Texas Supreme Court ruled in her favor, muddying the waters over how Texas’ Open Beaches Act is applied and interpreted.

Houston Matters’ Michael Hagerty discusses the case and its implications with Neena Satija, who covers the environment for the Texas Tribune.

MORE: Debating What’s More Sacred: Private Land or Public Beaches (Texas Tribune, Sept. 28, 2014)

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