Popular fishing spot ‘Rollover Pass’ imperiled

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GALVESTON – The days may be numbered for Rollover Pass, the manmade channel that bisects the Bolivar Peninsula and has long been a favorite Texas fishing spot.

Galveston County Court-at-Law Judge Barbara Roberts last week issued a summary judgment allowing the county to exercise eminent domain to take control of Rollover Pass. The state land office has said the pass is accelerating erosion on the peninsula and dumping sand into the Gulf Intracoastal Waterway that has to be removed.

County spokeswoman Brittany Rainville said officials have no plans to seize the land by force to close the pass, despite the court order empowering them to do so. “Nobody is going to be evicted,” Rainville said

She said the county legal department would try to reach an amicable agreement with the Gulf Coast Rod, Reel and Gun Club Inc., which owns Rollover Pass, to purchase the property.

But there is little doubt that the county plans ultimately to take possession so that the Texas General Land Office can hire a contractor to fill in the pass.

The two organizations opposing the closure remained defiant. The club and the Gilchrist Community Association joined in a failed attempt to block eminent domain proceedings, but are gearing for an appeal.

“I understand that we are definitely doing an appeal and are trying to get some kind of stay order,” said Ted Vega, the president of the community association.

Charles W. Irvine, the attorney for the Reel and Gun Club, said he was working on a legal strategy with his clients.

Irvine said that the judge’s recent decision means work could begin to close the pass before all legal options have been pursued. “The filling of the pass will be irreversible,” he said.

The judge’s ruling brought calls for protests and Internet posts warning that sheriff’s deputies were coming to seize the property by force. Protesters were urged to show up at Rollover Pass on Monday to demonstrate their support for keeping the pass open.

“We are ready to fight and will not back down!” the website Resist Control quoted Vega as saying.

Galveston County Sheriff Henry Trochesset said he was unaware of any effort to seize the Rollover Pass property. “I haven’t seen any court orders to remove anybody,” Trochesset said.

A few dozen protesters who gathered Monday at Rollover Pass held signs. One read, “No pass, no peace.”

“Fight all the way to the Supreme Court,” said Henry Fontenot, 70, of Dallas, a retired contractor who spends two weeks of every month fishing at Rollover Pass. “If we have to go see the president, I’ll pay my own way.”

James Simon, 54, a pipefitter from Huntsville, spends three months every summer fishing at the pass. “This is the best fishing in Texas,” Simon said. “I couldn’t go fishing anywhere else.”

Not everyone on the Bolivar Peninsula wants to keep Rollover Pass open.

Tom Byrom, owner of Brint Construction and a board member of the Bolivar Peninsula Chamber of Commerce, said the pass is unsightly and a dangerous place to fish. “I don’t know anybody who fishes there,” said Byrom, who owns a house on the peninsula and in Beaumont. “Most of the people (who fish there) are from out of town.”

The General Land Office believes Rollover Pass has caused significant beach erosion since it was opened in 1955. The land office received permission from the Legislature to close the pass in 2009 because it was accelerating erosion on the peninsula and dumping sand into the Gulf Intracoastal Waterway; it costs about $1 million a year to remove the sand. Land office studies also determined that the pass was increasing salinity in Rollover Bay on the north side of the peninsula.

Vega says those studies are flawed. “I cant stand the bullying that’s going on here,” Vega said. “That’s why I’m down here fighting. It ain’t right.”

The effort to close the pass has the support of environmental groups such as the Surfrider Foundation and the Galveston Bay Foundation.

The land office offered to build a $6 million fishing pier and parking lot to take the place of Rollover Pass. Instead of accepting the offer, the club and the Gilchrest community decided to fight.

Karl Dever, 57, a retired Houston parks supervisor who fishes regularly at the pass, said a fishing pier could never replace Rollover Pass. “I think it’s ludicrous,” Dever said.

But Byrom said a pier would improve what he considers a blighted area and create a surf that would attract surfers. “The improvement is going to be incredible,” he said.

The land office has no authority to use eminent domain to close the pass, but Galveston County does. The county agreed to exercise its eminent domain right to take Rollover Pass in exchange for the land office’s promise to build the fishing pier.

The county initially offered $1.05 million provided by the land office for the property, but the Reel and Gun Club rejected the offer. The county filed suit in March to condemn the property, and the club and Gilchrist community countered with a suit of their own.

‘Judge Roberts created a special commission that determined the value as $1.3 million, and the county deposited that amount in the court registry. Roberts on April 19 issued a summary judgment in which she determined that the law was so heavily weighted in favor of the county that the issue did not need to be decided at trial.

If the county and the Reel and Gun Club cannot reach an agreement, the value of the property will be decided in a trial scheduled for June 12.

The groups seeking to keep the pass open also have sued in federal court. They lost in federal district court, and their appeal was rejected by the Fifth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals. Vega says the plan is to appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court.


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