Keep Rollover Pass Open
By Wayne Stupka and Ted Vega
Recently, in a gross example of government overreaching in violation of private property rights, the General Land Office of the State of Texas went to the Corps of Engineers and applied for and received a permit to close Rollover Pass. Not only do they not own the land in question, they did not ask the owner of the land – the Beaumont Rod, Reel and Gun Club – - if they could. They just did it.
If this wasn’t bad enough, they are seeking to remove the best public access fishing location on the Upper Texas Coast. It is a high quality recreational resource available to handicapped and less wealthy fishermen and women of the coast – persons who cannot afford boats and motors. Furthermore the grounds on which they are overreaching do not hold up. It is a land grab, pure and simple.
Now, how would you feel if the government came to you and told you that they had applied for a permit to take action that would destroy your property? How many of you citizens out there would stand still for an arrogant, oppressive government agency telling you what they were going to do with your private property?
And now because the General Land Office has no power of condemnation, the GLO is trying to force Galveston County to do their dirty work for them by asking – or perhaps coercing – the County into condemning our property on their behalf. To date, Galveston County has not acted, but let’s be clear. It will be a “gut check” on whether the members of Commissioners Court are really concerned about overreaching government or not. This is an issue that puts the rhetoric of support for private property rights to the test.
So why are we closing the Pass?
First, we are always told it is because of erosion. Unfortunately, the big erosion problem on the Upper Texas coast is that the source of sand for all of our beaches is not what it used to be. Rollover Pass is a small symptom of the larger disease of loss of sand supply due to dams up the Mississippi River. Shutting Rollover Pass is not going to solve the erosion problem on Bolivar or anywhere else. Severe storms such as Ike cause ten to a hundred times more erosion in one day across a hundred miles of beach than does Rollover Pass in a decade. If the jetties were constructed that were part of the original plan, the erosion issue – such as it is – would go away.
Second, we are told that the problem is siltation of the Gulf Intracoastal Waterway – that sediment comes through the Pass and is deposited in the canal and causes increased maintenance dredging costs. However, consider this. A diversion was recently constructed (and permitted by the Corps and the GLO) to allow the diversion of Taylor’s Bayou in Jefferson County southward into the GIWW about fifteen miles in from the easternmost point of East Bay. That diversion will dump incredibly large amounts of sediment into the GIWW – a much larger amount than is contributed by Rollover Pass. So if increased dredging were really a concern, that project would never have been allowed. Yet it was with full support by the very entities that are trying to shut down the Pass.
Third, we are told that the GLO wishes to restore East Bay from an ecological perspective. To us, that sounded like a decent reason. But once again, this issue must be viewed in a cumulative context. The Taylor Bayou diversion mentioned above will divert millions and even billions of gallons of floodwaters into the GIWW and East Bay. That diversion is a new event. If Rollover Pass is closed, the ecology of East Bay will be dominated by freshwater inflow and will cease to function as a salt water fishery for long periods of time.
The Taylor Bayou diversion is a much bigger threat than Rollover Pass. However, if the Pass is left open, the freshwater domination of the Taylor Bayou diversion would be moderated by an exchange with the Gulf of Mexico and East Bay will likely be just fine. With the Pass closed, East Bay is doomed.
On the positive side, Rollover Pass is a poor fisherman’s dream. It offers truly quality fishing literally out of the back of your truck. You can drive right up to it. You can roll your wheel chair to it. It is open to all ethnicities and all classes of users. It is all about equality – equal access and equal rights.
By shutting the Pass, the government will be taking private property from the Beaumont Rod, Reel and Gun Club for the supposed purpose of benefiting beachfront homeowners – homeowners who now own the majority of the beach after the Severance decision by the Texas Supreme Court. Why should the Club’s private property be condemned to help private property owners?
Artist's concept of how Rollover Pass could look (click image for larger view).
All of us involved in supporting the Pass – the Beaumont Rod, Reel and Gun Club and the Gilcrist Community Association – recognize that the Pass must be improved. We have produced an image of what it could and should be, and we believe that we can raise the money – private money, not government money – to build this newer and better Pass. But since Ike, the Club, the Gilchrist community and Rollover Pass have been under attack.
All we ask is that the government leaves us alone – that we be allowed the chance to restore this fabulous recreation asset and get back to the business of providing quality fishing, bird watching and recreation to the residents of the Upper Coast.
Wayne Stupka is President of the Beaumont Rod, Reel and Gun Club.
Ted Vega is President of the Gilchrist Community Association.