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Is this the end for truly open beaches?

From last week:

The Texas Supreme Court ruled Friday the state cannot take private property for a public beach when a storm moves the vegetation line landward — a decision that may lead to restricted access along the coast.

Texas law allows anyone to place a blanket on the beach, right up to the vegetation line, even if it’s an intrusion on the privacy of a seaside home.

But in a split decision, the court found that the state’s policy of “rolling easements” – the ever-shifting border between public and private land – does not apply when the vegetation line is moved by a storm.

The boundaries may move because of erosion, which is a gradual occurrence, but “the state cannot declare a public right so expansive as to always adhere to the dry beach,” Justice Dale Wainwright wrote in the court’s 6-2 opinion.

“This could divest private owners of significant rights without compensation,” he wrote, “because the right to exclude is one of the most valuable and fundamental rights possessed by property owners.”

Justice David Medina, who wrote the dissent, argued that the court’s vague distinction between gradual and sudden changes to the Texas coast jeopardizes the public’s right to open beaches, “recognized over the past 200 years, and threatens to embroil the state in beach-front litigation for the next 200 years.”

I’m not qualified to judge the legal merits of these opinions, but philosophically speaking I have very little sympathy for the plaintiffs here. I do believe that the public’s right to the beaches outweighs their right to build wherever they want to, and I believe that they should have known the risks of building so close to the vegetation line. Hurricanes happen, and I say they don’t deserve any special consideration for them. Justice Medina is right, and this ruling is badly misguided.

Jim Suydam, a spokesman for the General Land Office, said the state agency would not comment on the decision until after its attorneys had more time to review it.

“The opinion raises a lot of questions” about how the state enforces the Open Beaches Act, Suydam said.

The 50-year-old state law guarantees public access to every inch of the 367-mile Texas coast, from Sabine Pass to the Mexico border. It’s so popular that more than 80 percent of Texas voters decided last year to include the Open Beaches Act in the state’s constitution.

Just curious here. Given that the Open Beaches Act is now in the Constitution, what exactly are the legal implications of this ruling? Why wouldn’t that override the issues in this lawsuit? Any lawyers want to address that? Thanks.

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9 Comments

  1. Kenneth D. Franks says:

    This a shameful violation of the Texas Constitution. Maybe the judges should actually follow the Constitution instead of being activists for a particular group. Republican Activist judges overriding the Constitution, it would be ironic if it weren’t such a travesty of justice. They are also moving Texas toward the West coast model where only the rich have access to the best beaches.
    I see court casesfar into the future if this is not changed.

  2. Kenneth D. Franks says:

    This a shameful violation of the Texas Constitution. Maybe the judges should actually follow the Constitution instead of being activists for a particular group. Republican Activist judges overriding the Constitution, it would be ironic if it weren’t such a travesty of justice. They are also moving Texas toward the West coast model where only the rich have access to the best beaches.
    I see court cases far into the future if this is not changed.

  3. Kenneth D. Franks says:

    A double post by accident while fixing a typo, sorry. K.D.F.

  4. Sebastian good says:

    This seems like it ignores scientific understanding also. While some erosion is “gradual”, storms are a critical part of it. Storms cause the erosion!

  5. Kenneth Fair says:

    I’ve never seen much evidence our Republican Texas Supreme Court feels itself bound much by precedent, statute, or the state or federal constitutions.

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