In 1959, my father Bob Eckhardt teamed up with Babe Schwartz to memorialize in statute what had been common sense and common law in Texas for more than 100 years: the coast belongs to the people, and access to the surf along its ever-changing beaches — no matter who owns the property up to the vegetation line — cannot be impeded. In a career that included the creation of the Big Thicket National Preserve, the Toxic Substances Act and the War Powers Act, my father considered the Open Beaches Act (OBA) his finest legislative collaboration. Until last week, anyone could throw down his or her beach blanket on the sands between the high tide and vegetation line of the Texas coast. Now, the Texas Supreme Court, in a remarkable contortion of common sense and history, clears the way for the beaches to be fenced off for private development down to the high tide line. Inferred in the Court’s ruling is that private property rights reign supreme, not just over the public’s interest in the beach but over natural phenomena. The hubris of enlisting a hurricane for the benefit of private property rights and the detriment of public access is staggering. Have private property rights become a religion? Even if the Fifth Circuit or the Texas Legislature doesn’t put the man-made concept of private property back in its proper perspective, the next hurricane will surely set us straight. The beaches belong to no single person and their contour is dictated by nature alone.
As I head out with my family to Port Aransas this weekend, I want to thank some of those who have worked tirelessly to preserve my right and the right of all Texans to plant their towels and coolers on the dry beach. Thank you, Babe Schwartz (D) for passing the OBA in 1959. Thank you, Representative Richard Peña Raymond (D) for enshrining the OBA in the Texas Constitution with 77% of the vote in 2009. Thank you, Attorney General Greg Abbott (R) and Land Commissioner Jerry Patterson (R) for your steadfast support of the OBA in the face of the Severance litigation. The people of Texas are honored by your bipartisan efforts to protect our collective heritage in the Texas coastline.