Saturday, October 06, 2007

Who Owns the Beach?

I ask the question “who owns the beach,” because nobody really knows. Below the mean high water mark, the State of Texas owns the land outright, although it can lease parts to other people, such as through the GLO for oil & gas or even wind turbine projects. The beach is a much more complicated thing.

Research reveals that the Town of SPI might in fact own some land on the beach through a deed by the original developer, John L. Tompkins (more information to follow in a few days). It probably is just a few acres. Otherwise, the Town doesn’t own a darn speck of land on the beach.

The reason why SPI has cop cars and code enforcement out on those beaches is because Texas Legislature allowed that. That legislation allowed coastal towns to control vehicle traffic, encourage beach renourishment, and require access; however it did not grant any easement, conveyance, right of way, or other ownership to the Town in the least.

So the important concept is that Texas allowed SPI to manage the beach but not really possess all of it. Indeed, many land parcels go down all the way from Gulf Boulevard all the way down to the high water mark. The eastern section would be a no-man’s land in between the historical building line and the vegetation line and then the beach itself. It could be an easement in the sense that the strip of beach along the Gulf is considered a highway – just look on County land in Boca Chica and to the north of town, where yes you can get a speeding ticket on their “highway.”

Here in Texas we are blessed to have an open beaches act, since in many other states the owners own all the way to the high water mark. The subtle undercurrent is that we don’t know who really owns the land when public works projects are considered for the beach, vegetation, and dunes. For example, how can we permit beach umbrellas and chairs when we really don’t own the beach?


Anonymous said...


No one owns, or can own, that portion of the beach in Texas from mean low tide of the Gulf of Mexico landward to the natural line of vegetation. This is, by law, public easement to afford open public access to the waters.

Title 31 of the Texas Administrative Code also requires (not just allows) cities and counties along the coast to protect the public's beach access rights. A town with beach has a responsibility to devise a plan which meets the code requirements specified in Title 31, Part I, Chapter 15.

Will Davis

Sam said...

Now we're getting somewhere, Will! The second part of your message interests me - so how about gated resorts and subdivisions along the coast?

Anonymous said...

Hey Sam,

Not sure if I understand -- probably old age, or perhaps too many bourbons under the bridge.

But anyway, the responsibility extends only to incorporated entities. That would mean counties where there is no city, or town, incorporated within their otherwise jurisdictions.

As you know from the other blog, I keep singing the same old song, if only in different keys.

Speaking of which, I be looking forward to playing the blues with you some day.

Hope all is well with Wells,


Anonymous said...

If a hotel owns a plot of land next to the county line, do they also reserve the right to the beach directly in front of it? Would that make the beach county or city?