AUSTIN (Texas General Land Office) – Public beach access on Galveston’s west end ended last week when the state Surpreme Court reaffirmed its previous ruling in favor of a California divorce attorney who bought beachfront rental properties there.
In 2005, California resident Carole Severance purchased several houses on the beach in Galveston. After Hurricane Rita hit that summer, the General Land Office sent Severance a letter stating her property was on the public beach and subject to removal under the Open Beaches Act. She was later offered up to $40,000 in public money to move each house off the beach.
Severance sued, claiming the public’s right to access the beach violated her constitutional rights.
In 2010, the Texas Supreme Court issued an opinion in the case that called into question the public beach easement, a key provision of the Texas Open Beaches Act. The Court ruled that a public beach easement does not exist on West Galveston Island because the original Republic of Texas land patent from 1840 failed to reserve the public’s right to use the beach.
The Court stated in last week’s ruling that even for areas where a public beach easement could be proven by the State, that easement did not “roll” landward and would effectively be extinguished after each new storm event or hurricane that moved the line of vegetation.
In a press release issued by the General Land Office, Texas Land Commissioner Jerry 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.