SOUTH PADRE ISLAND, Texas (KVEO) – Legislation heading to the Texas Senate could change the way the public beaches are managed.
This week, the House passed HB 4172, a bill that shifts the “burden of proof in a suit or administrative proceeding to establish that an area is subject to the public beach easement.”
This means that the State will have to prove that certain beach areas are used by the public. It also means that beachfront property owners have no right to prevent the public from using their property to access the beach.
Under the Texas Open Beaches Act 1959, the public is allowed “free and unrestricted” access to the Gulf of Mexico, meaning that Texans can access the beach anywhere between the line of vegetation and the shoreline, usually on municipal paths.
Depending on weather patterns and tides, coastline vegetation is often eroded, leaving no vegetation between the shoreline and beachfront properties.
When this happens, organizations will use city funds, subsidized by state grants, to repair the coastline after the state determines where the line of vegetation should be.
Coastal Advocate with the South Padre Island Chapter of the Surfrider Foundation, Rob Nixon believes the bill could have “unintended and dire” consequences for the public’s access and use of the beach and for cities that depend on funding for beach management.
“Everyone should be able to use the beach, not just because you have [a] certain amount of money you can afford a [beachfront] property,” said Nixon. “Our chapter believes in trying to find that balance between the two. This shifts the balance completely to the private property and typically, in a historical sense… that usually doesn’t go very well for the public.”
Currently, as weather and tides erode the beach further inland, the public part of the beach shifts along with it.
Even when beachfront property owners own the land up to the shoreline, the Open Beaches Act keeps that property between the vegetation and mean low tide open for public use.
With this new legislation, in a scenario where the beach is eroded up to the beachfront property and the owner begins placing “no trespassing” signs around their property that were previously used for an easement, it would be up to the state to regain the right to those points for the easement.
“It would end up in court and years of litigations, and also cost the municipalities, the cities, a lot of public funding for their projects,” said Nixon.
Nixon is hoping Texans will voice their opinions about HB 4172 to their Texas Senators. The bill was passed this week in the House.
You can find your local representatives here.