Homeowners in Galveston, Texas, have filed a legal action against the state government after Hurricane Laura and Tropical Storm Beta came through and altered the beachfront, prompting the state to demand that all land from the mean low tide line to 200 feet inland is public beach.
As shorelines actually do change periodically, most times the designated public property is between the low tide and high tide lines, which leaves improved, and privately owned, properties further away from the water untouched.
However, the state of Texas this year issued an order that because of the storm alterations in the Galveston region, that public property is from the low tide mark to 200 feet inland.
Only that actually takes private property on which homes have been built.
The Pacific Legal Foundation is taking up the case on behalf of landowners like Charles Sheffield and Merry Porter.
“Sheffield and Porter separately own several beachfront homes in Surfside Beach, which they use for rental income. The newly redrawn public beach area covers their property, placing the public beach on and around their beachfront homes and private property,” the legal team explains.
According to the state, “the placement of public beach on residential land triggers the public’s right to access and use of that land any time of day or night under the Texas Open Beaches Act. That means Sheffield and Porter cannot exclude trespassers from around their homes, and it creates related liability concerns, will result in substantial restrictions on their right to repair their homes, and does damage to their property values,” the foundation explained.
“The state can’t suddenly just redraw public beach property boundaries so as to convert a private residential lot into an area open for public use,” said J. David Breemer, a lawyer with the foundation.
“This illegal and unconstitutional move offends the rights of Texans like Sheffield and Porter to freely use, enjoy, and protect their beachfront homes. The Land Commissioner must abandon this illegal attempt to grab private coastal property for public use without just compensation, due process, or respect for Texas law.”
The state’s ownership of beach land between low and high tide marks is widely recognized, and the state already has the right to obtain beach easements on private land by proving a public right in a court of law – or buying the land.
The case charges the state is taking private property without just compensation and depriving the owners of due process, and it seeks an court order against the “unconstitutional taking of private land.”
“State officials may not place or move a public beach or public beach easement onto private land like plaintiffs’ based on the effects of a tropical storm or hurricane,” the case contends. “Before enforcing or declaring a public beach or public easement on private coastlands, state officials must establish in court that a common law public easement exists and burdens the areas of land which they seek to open to public use.”
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