September 23, 2008

Ike Changes Debate on Coastal Building

The destruction wrought by Hurricane Ike on the Texas coast has, at least temporarily, changed the debate about restricting building there, officials say.

Eddie Fisher, director of coastal resources for the General Land Office, told the Austin-American Statesman local officials are likely to be more sympathetic to protecting dunes and beaches.

In one case, Land Commissioner Jerry Patterson offered 14 owners of beach houses $50,000 to rebuild in places where they would not be cutting off beach access, the newspaper reported Tuesday. The homeowners were suing him.

But 10 of those houses are gone, gutted by the storm surge caused by this month's hurricane. Patterson said there is no deal for those houses.

Texas, like many other states, limits coastal construction. But the rules are liberal. Statewide, the area below the mean high tide mark is considered public property, and counties on the coast must establish their own setback line for dune protection.

Patterson plans to postpone any discussion of new setback rules, possibly until next year.

"I think we need to seek consensus on how we responsibly redevelop the Texas coast," Patterson said.