Texas Supreme Court Sides With Beachfront Homeowners

The Texas Supreme Court gave a big victory today to beachfront homeowners who suddenly find their homes on public land because of storms, saying the state can't take away their property.

The battle over open beaches in Texas has been going on for a long time, of course, but today's opinion brings some clarity to the issue.

Whether it's a clarity open-beach advocates will celebrate is another matter.

A majority of the split court said, for those of you who like legalese:

Oceanfront beaches change every day. Over time and sometimes rather suddenly, they shrink or grow, and the tide and vegetation lines make corresponding shifts. Beachfront property lines retract or extend as previously dry lands become submerged by the surf or become dry after being submerged. Accordingly, public easements that burden these properties along the sea are also dynamic. They may shrink or expand gradually with the properties they encumber. Once established, we do not require the State to re-establish easements each time boundaries move due to gradual and imperceptible changes to the coastal landscape. However, when a beachfront vegetation line is suddenly and dramatically pushed landward by acts of nature, an existing public easement on the public beach does not "roll" inland to other parts of the parcel or onto a new parcel of land.

For those of you who don't, it means that the vegetation line that is the demarcation between public and private shore land can be adjusted due to erosion, but not due to sudden changes brought about by storms.

The specific suit the court was examining involved a landowner on the West End of Galveston Island whose home wound up on the public side of the vegetation line after Hurricane Rita in 2005.

Texas' General Land Office tried to condemn the property, leading to the landowner's claims that it was an unconstiutional "taking."

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