The battle for Rollover Pass

BOLIVAR PENINSULA, Texas – A legal battle over one of the most beloved fishing spots in all of Texas may be nearing a resolution. The Texas General Land Office has been fighting to close Rollover Pass on the Bolivar Peninsula since 2009 and a judge is expected to rule next week on whether Galveston County can seize the surrounding property through eminent domain.

“I’ve been coming down here since I was 2 years old with my dad and I’ve been bringing my son down here since he was 2 years old,” said Gary Fruge, who is against the closure.

In 2009, the Legislature gave the Texas General Land Office the authority to close the pass. An $8.5 million grant was given for the project to start in August of 2009 and end in August of this year. But there has been one big hurdle. The 15.87 acres surrounding the pass are owned by the Gulf Coast Rod, Reel and Gun Club.

The club bought the land in the 1950s for public use and allowed the Texas Parks and Wildlife’s predecessor to cut the pass a short time after.

“It’s a loss of a beloved Texas tradition,” said Charles Irvine, an attorney representing the club.

Irvine said the club is fighting a move to have the property seized through eminent domain. The General Land Office doesn’t have the authority to take private property, but Galveston County does.

The president of the Gilchrist Community Association, Ted Vega, is helping fight the closure.

“It’s a great place that thousands of people from all over the country come to visit and enjoy,” said Vega. “All the species of fish come through here and they spawn, they breed, they go back out into the Gulf.”

The General Land Office has long argued the Pass causes massive beach erosion and imbalances in the ratio of salt and fresh water in the bays. The office reports it costs taxpayers $600,000 a year to dredge sand buildup in the Intercoastal Waterway caused by the pass and another $166,000 to redeposit sediment on the beaches. The county also argues the pass creates a greater hazard during storms.

Irvine and Vega disagree with these points.

“I’m hopeful, as always, that the system will do the right thing,” said Vega.

Irvine argued that cited studies regarding salinity in the bay are “flawed" and believes the pass promotes a healthy ecosystem.

"We don’t think it does any harm to the environment. We think it might actually benefit East Bay,” said Irvine.

Those who have enjoyed the pass for years also worry the closure will create an economic hardship on the small businesses that depend on anglers who flock to the spot as a way to enjoy robust fishing without the expense of hiring charters or buying their own boats.

"They’re not worried about the eels that are migratory. That are going through the pass. They’re not worried about the small mom and pop businesses around here that may go out of business after the pass is closed,” said Fruge. "This is the last place in Texas that I know of that you can come and have a good time with your family and catch quality fish."

But the county and the GLO stated the plan is to build a public park, along with a large pier to accommodate those who have long enjoyed the area.

Irvine balks at that plan.

“The county owns about 25 acres of land right next to Rollover, that if they just wanted a park, they could turn all those into a park,” said Irvine.

An attorney representing the county on the eminent domain issue sent a statement to KPRC that reads:

"While Rollover Pass has historically been a popular destination for fishermen on Bolivar Peninsula, beyond dispute it has also been the cause of significant erosion along the peninsula. Repairs for such erosion regularly cost the citizens of Galveston County and the State of Texas significant public funds. In addition, Rollover Pass can inhibit access on and off the peninsula in times of storms and endangers public property and critical infrastructure. By closing the pass and the creation of a new public park in its place, the erosion concerns, repair costs and safety considerations will be addressed and replaced with facilities including a pier and other amenities open to the public for all to enjoy. The Galveston County Commissioners Court, after reviewing all the information available to it including information collected after Hurricane Ike, made the independent decision that acquiring this property to accomplish these goals was clearly in the best interest of Galveston County and its citizens. While the Texas General Land Office has been an active participant in the overall project and Galveston County looks forward to working with the GLO in building this much needed improvement, the decision to move forward with property acquisition was that of Galveston County alone which has followed all the appropriate procedures to do so. The County looks forward the project being put to bid and beginning construction as soon as the court authorizes this acquisition."