Energy and Environment Reporting for Texas

War of Words over Supreme Court Beach Ruling

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.

A recent ruling by the Texas Supreme Court wasn’t very well-received by the General Land Office (GLO). In a 5–3 opinion, the Court ruled that the GLO couldn’t force a beachfront homeowner, Carol Severance, to move her house after a Hurricane eroded the public beach in front of it. After the hurricane, that beach was gone, and was now essentially under her house.

“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 after the ruling was announced. “This is truly a sad day.”

But a new response from the legal team behind the landowner begs to differ. The lead attorney for the defendant, David Breemer, said in a recent statement that “the decision does not ‘kill’ the Open Beaches Act; it enforces it. What it kills is a rolling easement theory that cannot be found anywhere in that law, a theory made up by state officials to avoid complying with provisions of the Act that say easements go to the vegetation line only when proven to exist by public use.”

Breemer said that “the decision gives nothing to private owners that they did not already own and takes nothing from the public to which it had a lawful right. It leaves in place the state’s ownership of the beach to the high tide line, however far inland that line may go.”

Now both sides have had their say. For the Texas Supreme Court, the latest decision was another in a string of rulings that favor the rights of landowners over state or commercial interests. In one of those decisions, the Denbury Green Pipeline case, the court ruled against a company using eminent domain to build a CO2 pipeline on a rice farmer’s land. That decision could have ramifications for the oil and gas industry in Texas. After the pipeline company and several others in the oil and gas industry asked the Texas Supreme Court to revisit that decision, the Court re-affirmed it early in March. On Friday, Texas Energy Report wrote that the company is asking the Court to revisit the decision a second time.


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