Ready for a demolition party in South Texas?
If asked for a photo that encapsulated Surfrider's mission, I very well might use a photo of the Surfrider Texas team.
Maybe even this one.
Surfrider is made of coastal locals who distinguish themselves from others by their action and stewardship.
They do more than love the beach.
They protect the beach.
They keep it accessible and enjoyable for all.
Rob Nixon, of the leaders of this crew, pushed out an update on a "beach wall" fight this morning. I thought I'd pass the mic to him and ask him to share a few words.
Jim: Rob, I saw the news this AM on South Padre's recent win. Can you share what the fight was about in a few words?
Rob: A few words? That's hard for me - but here it is in a nutshell. A Property Owner wanted to develop his property that was already dangerously close to the public beach here on South Padre Island, Texas. He was able to round up like-minded members of our County Dune Protection Committee, whose name has become a comical oxymoron. The members of the County Dune Protection Committee helped the developer deceive our County Commissioners into approving a "fence with a foundation".
The end of this partnership was an illegal retaining wall's construction beginning in plain sight of those that were watching including our Chapter, the City of South Padre Island and State Officials. When it was evident that state coastal developmental codes and laws that bolster our Texas Open Beaches Act, protect the Texas Tax Payer against ill-advised development and protect the Public's right to access and use Texas' Beaches were being violated, the South Texas Chapter alerted the Texas General Land Office and immediately began supplying meeting and photographic information to them to help form a case for stopping and removing the wall.
J: So this concrete wall was put up on the beach without any approvals?
R: Not exactly. The County Commissioners Court did grant a permit for the "fence with a foundation". However, what they saw in their provided information was not accurate and was purposely made so by our Dune Protection Committee because this was one of the 1st developments on their beaches AND the Vice-Chair of the Committee was the Real Estate Broker for the Property Owner.
In Texas, and in the County Dune Protection Plan, it is mandated by law that there can be no development or retaining walls within 200 feet of the Line of Vegetation (the landward boundary of the Public Beach in Texas) and essentially 400' landward of the waterline. This mandate is there to protect both the public beach and the Property Owner as long as possible against our eroding shoreline. The mandate is also there to protect the Texas and Federal Tax Payer from picking up the bill in order to "save" these properties from the encroaching shoreline through beach fill projects. In this case, we are talking about a beach that is eroding at 10-12 feet a year (without a storm) in one of the poorest counties in Texas that was projected by the only funded study by the Texas General Land Office at costing the County Tax Payer $30-$70 million every five years for every five miles of beach if the county were to pursue this developmental plan. Through deceit and calculated lies, the County Dune Protection Committee still persuaded the Cameron County Commissioners Court to go along.
J: It sounds like the win not only gets the wall removed but the owner was also fined for the illegal action AND he has to establish the dunes back to their original state, Is that right?
R: Yes that is correct.
The ruling by a jury in Austin at a Travis County District Court mandated that the Developer pay $10,000 in dune destruction fines (if you add in the other violations not related to the beach, it reaches $419,000), $200,000 in reimbursement to the state of Texas for legal fees, he must tear out the illegal wall and footings and mitigate all damage done to the dunes as a result of the project.
It is important to recognize that this was a Jury made up of members that are 3 or more hours away from the Texas Coast and reside in a state that is under political control of the extreme right, the Tea Party and their extreme view of Property Rights. I think that is a huge testament to the Public Servants who prosecuted the case with facts. A lot of those facts, provided by Surfrider South Texas.
J: Tell us about why this matters from a precedent-setting standpoint.
R: This is THE precedent for all projects that follow after the Sea Breeze Estates.
The Surfrider Foundation knew this throughout Texas and the individuals on the County Dune Protection Committee knew this as well.
This was one of the first projects proposed on the County's 10 miles of undeveloped, pristine beach and the Developers on the Committee were counting on this going through as there are more similar projects behind this, again with the Vice-Chair of the County Dune Protection Committee being involved as an Agent or a Broker for Real Estate. This is why it had to be stopped here and not later. Hopefully, this judgement will send a very clear message to the County Commissioners and Judge that the make-up of their Dune Protection Committee needs to be radically changed. If this would have gone South it would have weakened coastal developmental standards and protections from South Padre Island through Corpus Christi and all the way up to Sabine Pass.
J: Awesome and nice touch with your thank you letter (I'll link to it) to everyone that was a part of this fight, any last words for others that may be looking at similar fights?
R: Don't give up ever!
Constant pressure, endlessly applied.
I have seen similar fights on a grander scale from the Outer Banks to New Jersey to Gaviota in California and they are working for what I believe is one of the Surfrider Foundation's greatest missions, preserving our coasts, our waves and our beaches for the enjoyment by ALL people while protecting those same people from bailing out those developers who want to own it all with a very large subsidy provided by those they want to exclude.
The system can work. We lucked out and it only took three years here with a great system of Activists and Public Servants that were all in!
Oh, and who is ready for a demolition party?!