One State May Soon Close All Public Beaches, Here’s Why

If a bill passes in Texas, many of the state's current public beaches will no longer be accessible.

By Wendy Hernandez | Updated

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Access to public beaches is critical for a number of reasons. It allows individuals to enjoy the outdoors, get some exercise, and spend time with their friends and family in a natural setting. Public beaches can provide crucial recreational possibilities for those who live near or on coastlines; sadly, though, depending on an impending senate bill, some folks in Texas could potentially be kept off their beloved beaches.

If Senate Bill 434 passes, public beaches in Texas will be drastically affected, and public access to the shoreline could be lost in many areas. This means that Texans who have been visiting public beaches for generations may no longer be able to do so. Even worse, if the public can’t get to these areas, public money for beach projects, cleanups, and maintenance might not be able to reach them.

According to a recent opinion piece in the Caller Times, “Senate Bill 434, by Sen. Mayes Middleton of Galveston, would strip the authority of the Texas General Land Office to define the boundaries of the public beach and would allow the upland beachfront property owner to make that determination.”

The bill would take away the power of the Texas General Land Office (GLO) to set the boundaries of public beaches. This would be up to the owner of the upland property next to the beachfront. In the past, the GLO has kept public beach access open by surveying a “wet beach” line that shows where public rights start and where people are allowed to go. But letting beachfront property owners decide who can access the beach could lead to beaches that are fenced off, have “do not enter” signs, or even no public beach at all.

The Daily News, the oldest newspaper in Texas, reported that Middleton and his team haven’t been able to answer questions about the bill, but he did release a statement on Tuesday about its goal. “Senate Bill 434 makes no changes to restrict the Open Beaches Act, which remains a continuous use easement as always,” Middleton wrote in a statement to The Daily News. “It only changes the presumption if the state claims your beachfront private property as state lands.”

Middleton’s critics don’t quite believe him, however. “No matter how many times that’s said, it doesn’t make it so,” Jackie Cole, a former Galveston city councilwoman and member of the beach and dunes ad hoc committee, said, via the Daily News.

It goes without saying that the public beach easement, which the state of Texas has granted, should be protected from being taken away by private interests. Property owners in the uplands adjacent to public beaches should not be able to claim ignorance of the public’s rights on these beaches. As a general rule, government funds should be used for public good, therefore restricting access would be a violation of Texans’ constitutional rights.

If Senate Bill 434 is passed, it will also hurt developers who build near the coast because they use GLO survey data to figure out where the setback lines for their projects should be.

Ultimately, Texans have a duty to call or write their state representatives and urge them to vote no on Bill 434. Having free and open access to the beach is a basic freedom that should be defended at all costs. It is crucial to make one’s voice heard before Senate Bill 434 restricts public access to some of the world’s most beautiful coastlines and strips away the rights of the people who live there.