Energy and Environment Reporting for Texas

For General Land Office, New Texas Supreme Court Ruling is a Real “Beach”

Photo by Smiley N. Pool-Pool/Getty Images

Damaged beach front homes are seen on Galveston Island after the passing of Hurricane Ike September 13, 2008 in Galveston, Texas.

Planning to go to a Texas beach this summer? If you’re hoping to hit the public beach at Galveston’s West End, you might find it’s now private property, thanks to a new ruling from the Texas Supreme Court.

In a 5-3 opinion, the Court ruled that “the State claims that it is entitled to an easement on privately owned beachfront property without meeting the law’s requirements for establishing an easement.”

“It seems that the Open Beaches Act — at least for Galveston’s West End — is dead, thanks to the Supreme Court,” Texas Land Commissioner Jerry Patterson said in a release. “This is truly a sad day.” He also said that the ruling “gives a pretty big club to anyone who wants to challenge the Texas Open Beaches Act anywhere else along the coast.”

“As we acknowledge continuous and natural physical changes in the West Galveston shoreline, we must also recognize ages-old private property rights that are protected by law,” the Court wrote in its decision, which you can read below. 

What led up to all of this? In 2005, Carole Severance purchased a few beachfront properties in Galveston. (The General Land Office in its press release specifically calls her out as “a California divorce attorney”). Later that summer, Hurricane Ike hit, and eroded the beach so severely that Severance’s home was now considered part of the public beach. The General Land Office offered her up to $40,000 to move her house further back, but she refused and took them to court.

As this decision is by the highest court in the state, there is no room for appeal.

Read the full decision by the Texas Supreme Court:


About StateImpact

StateImpact seeks to inform and engage local communities with broadcast and online news focused on how state government decisions affect your lives.
Learn More »