The State of Texas may prohibit many people whose homes were destroyed from rebuilding under the Texas Open Beaches Act – a law that’s been in effect since 1959. Many homeowners may lose their property and not be compensated.
Texas beaches are eroding more rapidly than any other coastal area in the US. All Texas beaches are public lands which are open to the public. The strip of beach between the dune or line of vegetation (average high-tide line) and the average low-tide line is public property. Homes that are built along public beaches must retain their dunes and be behind the vegetation line. If a home loses its line of vegetation (the dune) then that property is subject to condemnation as public land.
State Land Commmissioner Jerry Patterson has asked local governments to adopt regulations limiting development along beaches. Proposed rules state that new buildings must be set back 60 times the erosion rate. Erosion rates are measured from the beach's line of vegetation. Texas’ average annual erosion rates range from 5-6 feet/yr., so new construction would have to be set back at least 300 feet from the line of vegetation. That’s the length of a football field!
A Position Paper from the Texas Chapter of Surfrider Foundation summarizes the Texas Open Beaches Act. “It is declared and affirmed to be the public policy of this state that the public, individually and collectively, shall have the free and unrestricted right of ingress and egress to and from the state-owned beaches bordering on the seaward shore of the Gulf of Mexico...extending from the mean low tide to the line of vegetation bordering on the Gulf of Mexico. . . The attorney general shall develop and publicize an enforcement policy to prevent and remove any encroachments and interferences on the public beach."
According to Patterson, it will take a year before the state can determine whether homeowners can continue living on their land. "You want to have at least a complete all four seasons and find out what Mother Nature is actually going to do until she finishes what she's going to do."
Those whose homes were destroyed can collect insurance. But it is unclear whether those whose undamaged homes are condemned under the Texas law will get any compensation, from the state or anyone else. Land Office spokesman Jim Suydam said the agency used to offer people up to $50,000 to move, but he didn't know if that fund still exists.