Main Content

State agrees to beach-building project on Galveston’s West End

GALVESTON  12/16/2021

Galveston Daily News

West End residents have been clamoring for a publicly funded beach-building project between Dellanera RV Park and 13 Mile Road for some time.

Now, despite being long thought at odds with state policy, the project appears to be moving toward reality in 2023.

The project would be a departure from previous state policy that opposed using public money to lay sand in front of privately owned West End beachfront property.

West Enders last year asked the Texas General Land Office — which oversees state beaches and provides funding for beach-building projects — to consider constructing a beach between 8 Mile and 13 Mile roads after a series of summer 2020 storms ravaged beaches.

The land office confirmed this week it had agreed to fund the engineering work necessary to build from 8 Mile to 13 Mile roads, a necessary first step to construction. The land office wouldn’t explain the policy change except to say the sand would be dumped on a public easement that runs along all Texas beaches.

The land office also has expressed interest in reallocated sand that would have been laid on Babe’s Beach in 2023 for a West End sand-laying project, the bounds of which are yet to be determined, said Brandon Hill, the city’s coastal resource manager.

“We’re very encouraged that this project is going to be a first step in a larger phase for the West End of the island,” Hill said.

The Galveston Island Park Board of Trustees, which traditionally has managed the local side of beach-building projects, agreed to ask its funding partners to push their planned 2023 Babe’s Beach project to 2025. That would allow the sand dedicated to the 2023 project to go to the West End instead.

“I’m floored,” park board CEO Kelly de Schaun said. “This has never happened so quickly before. The stars have really aligned.”

Beach-building projects are massive undertakings that typically piggyback off the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers’ regularly scheduled dredges of the Galveston Ship Channel.

West End residents have been asking for beach-building projects since a series of three storms in summer and fall of 2020 raked sand off the beach, damaged public streets and scraped out foundations and back porches from beachfront homes.

The project is a huge deal for residents, said District 6 Councilwoman Marie Robb, who represents the West End.

“People on the West End get so frustrated when they see a project like Babe’s Beach, or when they start a project in front of the seawall, and yet we’re the unprotected area,” Robb said.

Laying new beach is a crucial part of protecting property from storms, Hill said.

“The ocean or a storm is going to come at you with a certain amount of energy,” Hill said. “Let’s call it X. In this equation, you want the amount of material in front of your property to be X plus one. You never want the material in front of you to be less than what the storm is going to be throwing at you.”

That the land office is considering a West End beach-laying project is a drastic departure from 2010, when the agency abandoned a massive $40 million construction project practically on the eve of its commencement.

Land office administration at the time had expressed concern about legal repercussions if any of the sand was dumped on private land. At the time, a lawsuit was snaking through appeals court about California resident Carol Severance’s three island houses that ended up in the public easement during Hurricane Rita in 2005. The state planned to demolish the homes and Severance sued.

The land office will be laying sand in the public easement, said Matt Atwood, land office spokesman.

Working within that easement, the land office will be able to lay down sand, Hill said.

“The easement gives the public access to the resources that are the beach itself,” Hill said. “That’s the easement that the General Land Office will be utilizing.”

The progress is good news to West End residents, said Jerry Mohn, president of the West Galveston Island Property Owners Association.

“We lost a lot of dunes this past season,” Mohn said. “Over the past two years, there weren’t major storms, but they were enough with high tides that we took a lot of damage. We got hammered very badly.”

Areas like Pirates Beach and in front of the Riviera I, Riviera II and West Grand Beach condominium buildings had particularly dramatic sand losses and their beaches were narrowed significantly.

Keri Heath: 409-683-5241; or on Twitter