Both Sides Claim Victory in Bolivar Beach Front

Governor Rick Perry has allowed a bill containing a controversial amendment to become law without his signature. That amendment — tacked on by Representative Wayne Christian — allows him and his neighbors to rebuild their beach-front houses, which were destroyed by Hurricane Ike. Even so, Land Commissioner Jerry Patterson says that won't happen, as Ben Philpott reports from Austin.

Christian — a Republican from Center says, "…the legislation will allow families whose homes were destroyed by the hurricane to rebuild, protecting both individual property rights and access to public beaches." 

But Commissioner Patterson says Christian's amendment in the new law is poorly written — unconstitutional — and shouldn't have any affect on his ability to deny building permits for beach front property.

"Bottom line though — the open beaches of Texas will remain open.  There will be no construction or rebuilding in areas that would not have otherwise been allowed absent the Christian amendment to House Bill 770.  And nothing changes."

Christian — of course — says the law is constitutional.  But as long as Patterson believes he can deny construction — it's going to take a victorious lawsuit to change his mind. 

Patterson also says the argument over rebuilding Christian's home overshadows the affect beach reclamation can have on the state's strained coastal insurance system.  Beman Floyd is with the Texas Coalition for Affordable Insurance Solutions.  He says the battle over property rights has always been fierce on the coast.

"We understand the tensions.  We understand that there are a lot of economic commitments on the coast and a lot of people have valuable property down there that they want to be able to maintain and build on.  But at the same time we think that the state needs to take a good hard look at real loss mitigation both in building codes and in land use." 

That means- lower the amount of construction that needs to be insured — and you lower the amount of money that would have to be paid out after a hurricane.  Patterson says an election this fall will go a long way to reducing construction and that insurance risk on the coast.  A constitutional amendment that would take current open beaches law — and add the language to the state constitution — is set for the November constitutional amendment ballot.  

Reporting from Austin — I'm Ben Philpott.