Letters 07-27-2000

Beach and Learn

As a lawyer, I represented a number of property owners, including John Arrington, in lawsuits, both as defendants and as plaintiffs, against the state's efforts to enforce the Open Beaches Act ["This Sand Is Your Sand," by Brad Tyer, July 13]. The events of that litigation might shed some light on the present enforcement policy of the attorney general.

After Hurricane Alicia moved the vegetation line back behind people's homes, we contended that it happened not from erosion but because Alicia was an avulsion, a dramatic temporary event that changed the property boundaries.

We argued that all of the beach's features except the vegetation line had recovered after Alicia and therefore some time had to elapse until the true vegetation line could be determined.

This argument lost until a federal lawsuit was filed and Judge Lynn Hughes agreed.

This decision was overturned on appeal on a procedural issue, then the policy was changed and property owners were given some time to determine the true location of the vegetation line. This was especially the case after Tropical Storm Frances, which occurred in the last year of Dan Morales's AG term.

The difference now is that we know that in the vast majority of cases, the vegetation line has in fact moved and has not relocated to its original spot prior to Frances. Frances, for some reason, was not an avulsive event but an erosive one. All efforts to move the vegetation line seaward have failed. It appears that following Frances, the various topographical features of the beach have moved landward and thus so has the vegetation line.

The bottom line is that beach engineering is a modern version of alchemy. It doesn't work, but people buy into trying it to preserve their property. The ocean is nature's most powerful erosive force, and if it's going to take your beach, you can't stop it -- period.

The only alternative is to prevent further development. Galveston's city limits extend to the entire island, except Jamaica Beach. Galveston can no longer issue building permits for such homes, and laws should be passed that prevent such property owners from transferring their property by either sale or probate.

While these limitations will undoubtedly cost money because the government action is in effect a taking of property, it is not as much as you might think. Remember that you are not buying land in perpetuity as you would any other piece of property. You are buying land with a maximum period of enjoyment of around 50 to 60 years. In other words, it is a long-term lease, and like most such leases, it doesn't cost as much to buy it out. It is far cheaper to restrict development and the private sale or transfer of property than it is to engage in the kind of beach engineering contemplated by most property owners.

I think your article highlighted most Open Beaches Act problems well. Thanks for the insight.

Mike Charlton

I enjoyed your article on the Open Beaches Act, but you were way too kind to the beach property owners. These people purchased their property well aware of the obvious problem: the ocean. Now that nature has done what it does best (change things), they want the government to bail them out, or in the alternative, move their problem to the next beach community.

After reading your article, I found myself longing for an attorney general like the thoroughly obnoxious Jim Mattox. Old Jim would have taken care of this situation quickly, and you can be sure the owners of the structures would have paid for the houses' removal.

I was appalled on my first day trip to Surfside. The filth and clutter was unbelievable. If the people of Surfside feel they are being harassed by outsiders, perhaps they should take a step back and smell their beach. The place is a toxic waste dump.

American taxpayers subsidize flood insurance on beach houses. I have no problem with someone living near the ocean, but why should I help support this lifestyle through my tax dollars?

Mike Bentley
Sugar Land

As to Surfside, who is more right? The person who protects his property with bulkheads, or the Corps of Engineers who moved the mouth of the Brazos? I have heard from several informed sources that the moving of the Brazos is the sole cause for the erosion problems at Surfside.

Is it okay to bulkhead Galveston Island (with the seawall) and refurbish sand there and forbid others to do the same? Why don't you spend a moment and inform yourself of the true cause of erosion.

Saving Texas beaches makes economic sense way beyond the 100, more or less, homes currently affected by erosion. Try for some balance, please.

Larry Kelly

Bugged by the Bug

Although your article "Cassandra's Revenge" [Insider, by Tim Fleck, July 6] was intended to slam good unions and a good Allied Printing Trades Council, we have received many calls of support and offers of assistance from current and former members and employees of Texas Printing. The article is one-sided, inaccurate and starts in the middle.

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