WHERE HIGHWAY 87 CRUMBLED BEFORE THE TIDE The part of Texas “[where] storms are what you talk about” is the subject of John Nova Lomax’s dispatch this week in Texas Monthly — more specifically, the 16-mile stretch of coast where the state gave up on rebuilding SH 87 after the last of a series of hurricane washouts in the 1980s. Amid nude beach signage, dolphin carcasses, and the rusting remains of pipelines and 4-wheelers, Lomax meditates on the idea that the battered stretch of coast, where Texas’s beaches and barrier islands begin dissolve away into a Louisiana-style tangle of eroding wetlands, “once functioned as a seawall: there was a natural ridgeline made of shells and sand that was used as a trail by Native Americans, then Spaniards, then Texans. Then the ridge was bulldozed and repurposed to grade Highway 87, the road that no longer exists — and the one bulwark against the sea was gone.” [Texas Monthly] Photo of eroding highway in McFaddin National Wildlife Refuge: US Fish and Wildlife Service
The shot above captures the Saturday night scene along the Galveston seawall southwest of Stewart Beach, where bulldozers were pushing around the gush of sand and water being piped in as part of the latest round of beach building on the island. The crews were still at it around 9 pm; the shot below shows the Pleasure Pier over-water amusement park still lit up in the distance to the west:
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STATE LEADERS LOOK TO BAN PROPOSED GALVESTON BAG BAN, STOP LOCAL CALIFORNIA-IZATION Members of Galveston’s city council expect to vote next year on a ban on plastic bags, writes Harvey Rice this week — and also expect the state government to try to overturn that ban, whether by lawsuit or through new legislation. Proponents of the ban note that the bags frequently make their way into the water around the island, where they may start new careers decorating the local beaches or killing birds and turtles that try to eat them. Rice notes that top members of the state government believe, however, that the bigger problem is Texas cities being “California-ized” (as governor Greg Abbott called it) by their own locally-developed rules; this include the 2014 Denton fracking ban that inspired a no-local-oil-and-gas-regulations-allowed law last session, invalidating dozens of older municipal ordinances around the state. Attorney general Ken Paxton has also sued Brownsville over a fee on retailer bag use, and supports the ongoing lawsuit that put the brakes on Laredo’s recent bag ban (which in turn caused Port Aransas to quietly stop enforcing its own ban, until the Texas supreme court weighs in). The Chronicle‘s editorial board also notes that state senator Bob Hall from Edgewood in Northwest Houston has already filed a bill for the upcoming legislative session aimed at eliminating all local bag rules. [Houston Chronicle] Photo of Galveston seagulls: Russell Hancock via Swamplot Flickr Pool
EXCESSIVE GALVESTON BEACH BACTERIA PROBABLY NOT LEG-THREATENING, JUST FECAL, SAY OFFICIALS Scott Packard assures KHOU this week that the beach advisories put out by the Galveston County Health District lately aren’t related to flesh-eating strains of Vibrio bacteria — the agency has been fielding concerned phone calls in the wake of a Jacinto City man’s ongoing hospitalization and forced amputation due to a suspected Vibrio infection following a swim in Galveston with an open wound. But direct infection from seawater contact, while a perennial occurrence in Gulf Coast states, is nonetheless extraordinarily rare, Packard says. Rather, the beach advisories reflect above-standard measuremens of run-of-the-mill fecal bacteria: “Typically after periods of heavy rains [in] any recreational or coastal area, rain water will wash cattle waste, pet waste and some sewage overflows into the Gulf through rivers and streams, and that will make the levels spike for typically a day or so.” [KHOU; previously on Swamplot] Galveston Island sites with high bacteria levels: Texas General Land Office
A SEAWALL IN CANADA TAKES A DIFFERENT APPROACH TO COMBATING COASTAL EROSION Meanwhile, in Vancouver: Those familiar with Galveston’s frequent sand replenishment projects likely know that flat seawalls can exacerbate beach erosion by reflecting wave energy that would dissipate more readily in a natural sandy setting. In response so-called king tides pummeling the coast of Vancouver, a Canadian landscape artist collaborated with a biologist and engineers to address beach erosion in a new way. Blending principles of ecology, hydrology, and aesthetics, Metamorphous incorporates boulders, plant life, and an angular a steel structure intended to rust away altogether in less than 100 years. The functional public art piece slows the flow of water as it rushes inland, causing sand to be deposited on the beach for the first time in resident memory. [Citylab]
COMMENT OF THE DAY: WE’RE UNDER YOUR BEACH HOUSE, GRILLIN’ YOUR BURGERZ “It may appear that the homeowner ‘won’ this case, but read the law again. Texas law allows anyone to place a blanket on the beach, right up to the vegetation line, even if it’s an intrusion on the privacy of a seaside home. Basically, you can have a cookout under the house, park your car, spread out, whatever, and the homeowner has zero ability to do anything about it, as the home is within the vegetation boundary.” [mikeyyc, commenting on Texas Supreme Court: Private Properties Can Erode Public Beaches]
TEXAS SUPREME COURT: PRIVATE PROPERTIES CAN ERODE PUBLIC BEACHES The state’s high court ruled today in favor of Californian Carol Severance, whose rent house on Kennedy Dr. in West Galveston found itself in front of the vegetation line after Hurricane Rita hit in 2006. The Texas Supreme Court ruled that the state can’t claim an easement on her property — but if the same topography had resulted over a longer period of time, the easement would be okay: “Texas law allows anyone to place a blanket on the beach, right up to the vegetation line, even if it’s an intrusion on the privacy of a seaside home. But in a split decision, the court found that the state’s policy of ‘rolling easements’ — the ever-shifting border between public and private land — does not apply when it’s moved by a storm. At the same time, the court held that policy is justifiable in cases of erosion, which is gradual.” [Houston Chronicle; decision; previously on Swamplot]
THE POWER BALLS HAVE ARRIVED! Okay, fess up: Which one of you has been secretly transporting oil from the Deepwater Horizon gusher to our local beaches? The Coast Guard reported over the weekend that up to 5 gallons of dime- to ping-pong-ball-size tar balls collected from the surf along East Beach in Galveston and the Bolivar Peninsula’s Crystal Beach came from BP’s little offshore accident. But surely the little bugger-balls can’t have been trying to swim all the way back to headquarters? “[Coast Guard captain Marcus] Woodring said the condition of the tar balls didn’t look like they had drifted all the way from the Macondo well.
They were ‘inconsistent with the weathering pattern that would be expected,’ he said. ‘To travel 400 miles is going to take a long time,’ during which the oil would be expected to break down.
Officials were investigating whether the tar balls were from oil that clung to the hull of a ship passing through the BP oil slick or were from ballast water taken on by a ship in the oil slick zone and later dumped in Texas waters, Woodring said.” [Houston Chronicle]
GROWING PROPERTY LINES ON THE BEACH The owners of more than 2 dozen properties on the Bolivar Peninsula have been planting grass and shrubs along the edges of the dunes on the seaward side of their land. Why? The General Land Office prohibits new construction beyond the natural vegetation line. “‘The front row (of beach houses) is gone, and they are hoping to establish the vegetation line where it was before,’ said Dan Peck, 54, whose neighbors planted a swath of grass about 250 yards long. . . . Peck’s house in the Singing Sands subdivision near Crystal Beach was in the fourth row from the beach before Ike swept away the front three rows of houses Sept. 13. The vegetation line is established by the General Land Office, but Land Commissioner Jerry Patterson said he may wait as long as two years after the storm before marking the formal line that could determine the fate of many Gulf properties.” [Houston Chronicle]