Shore Thing

Attorney General John Cornyn sure knows how to stir up controversy. He has attacked the fees of the outside lawyers hired by the state in its successful lawsuit against tobacco companies, impugned the integrity of his predecessor, Dan Morales, and now has created a huge exception to the state’s open beaches laws by overturning the long-held doctrine that any private structures located on a public beach must be removed. Cornyn announced this summer that 103 out of 107 beach homes in Galveston and Brazoria counties that are now located seaward of the vegetation line after storms eroded the coast last fall can remain on the beach. (The other four have been damaged beyond repair.) The new test, he indicated, was whether a house “significantly” blocks beach access. Cornyn is seeking to balance public rights with private property rights. The trouble is that under Texas law, the superior property right (technically, a prescriptive easement) to the beach belongs to the public, which acquired it through many decades of use. Does erosion allow the landowner to trump the public’s rights? If so, what is to stop landowners from putting up new homes on the beach—or, for that matter, restaurants or nightclubs—as long as John Cornyn says they are not “significantly” blocking public access?

Tags: POLITICS

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