Sunday, June 14, 2009


Finally I got back down (or up) the coast to Crystal Beach which lies on the Bolivar Peninsula to see it after hurricane Ike came through and devastated the whole area. It has been about 9 months since the storm of the century came through and wiped most of the beach homes and businesses right off the island. My friend had recently purchased a beach house and surprisingly it was one of only a handful that made it through the storm still intact. So we were invited up for a party weekend and of course I couldn't refuse!

While I was there I heard talk from a local who said there were about 250 homes pre-Ike and 28 left post Ike. I don't know if that's fact or not, but I can say first-hand that it isn't anything like it was out there before the hurricane of Sept. 2008. Pre-Ike Crystal Beach used to be filled with beach houses on both the beach and bay side and Hwy 87 which runs right down the center was fairly packed on both sides with a good assortment of businesses ranging from hardware stores to gas stations to tourist traps and a good splattering of bars and restaurants to boot.

Post hurricane Ike is quite different now. I had already seen pictures and heard the stories so I was pretty well prepared to see it first hand. It is still a bit traumatic when you see it especially when you remember what it was for so many years before the storm. The last time I was there pre-Ike I can remember the out of control development along the waterfront and how I hated to see the coastline taken up by private houses blocking out the view of the water. I can remember being in college and driving this area in the late 80's when it was just a sleepy little vacation spot but it had become a mecca for weekenders and the real estate business just kept on coming right down the beach, row after row, house upon house. It is a very different scene today. One day and one storm took out at least 80% or probably more of all that development which took literally YEARS to get that way. When you look down the beach now you see the Gulf of Mexico on one side and what used to be the 2nd or 3rd row of houses - now beachfront property! The 1st row of houses was basically completely taken out. The locals say it was the huge storm surge and the water that rose - it popped the houses right out of their foundations. (Of course, I'm sure the winds didn't help any either!)

They are re-building it all as fast as they can but even 1 year later there is still so much damage evident and so many houses that either have only the pilings left or nothing at all, just bare sand. I heard the estimated number of human casualties was finally totaled at 70 with 20 that are still unaccounted for. Looking at the scene, even post 9 months, and knowing the estimated numbers of residents who chose to stay here and 'ride it out' one would think there were really more lives lost than have been officially reported.

I've included several pictures of the beachfront as it looks today because I think it is just amazing what they are trying to do right now all along the Crystal Beach portion of the peninsula. In Texas you cannot build beyond the line of vegetation because from the veggie line to the water is public beach access. In fact, your home needs to be several feet back from the veggie line and I think 4 feet above sea level as well. The storm took out the first row of beach houses AND their property basically because it moved the veggie line back into the 2nd row of houses all along the beach and the water is also now farther inland than it used to be. Well. The people who had front row now have a partial lot (if any at all) of sand where they can no longer re-build. The government will buy them out for something like 75% of the value minus any FEMA money they happened to get, or they can keep it and pay taxes on it hoping the beach will return, but they can't rebuild that close to the water on public beach access. These people have been allowed (somehow) to come in and push the sand around, bring in hay bales and start building the vegetation line back out to the water so they can re-build out into the beach!!!! Can you believe that???? I could not so I got several pictures of it to prove it to you. I don't know how they are being allowed to grow grass out on the public access beach front but they are doing it, all the way down the beach!

Not only that, but a local politician (who lost his beach front home) has so far succeeded in getting some legislation passed that allows for an exception to the Texas Open Beach Act so that he can re-build his beach front home out in front of the veggie line! He is fighting with the Land Commissioner right now who is trying to uphold the rights of the public. WHAT A MESS! If he gets his way I give up on obeying the laws because poor people (or less than rich) are the only ones who seem to have to follow them anymore. The rich (or those with the political clout) just seem to get the laws changed to suit their needs.

But politics aside, I had a fun weekend, the water was spectacular and the beach, the bays, and the peninsula, in my opinion are more beautiful than I've seen it in over 20 years and possibly than I've ever seen it, post-Ike. It really did a cleansing. The beach sand has been taken from the bay side (where much of it ended up), cleaned, and replaced along the public beaches and it looks great right now. I do feel sorry for those who lost their homes and businesses, but I also realize that if you buy anything that close to the coast you know you are taking a risk. The storm of the century just might come your way - eventually.


-- Mangrove Tom -- said...

Interesting reading, since I used to visit the beaches back in the 80's too. Seems like a great time to rethink development; barrier islands are by definition a transient feature. Grandfather in the existing homes and place severe restrictions on what new development can reappear.

Did you happen to see how nearby Bolivar Flats IBA made it through? I raed another blog that said coastal bird habitat really took a beating too.


I think the Houston Audubon Society watches over the IBA on Bolivar and they have a blog where they update birding reports. Here it is if anyone wants to see the latest:

I think the birds that used to use the trees and flora of the island that was planted there by humans for so many years are basically gone, either moved on or perished, because the old habitat is gone. The new habitat is a barrier island of sand with a few bog spots here and there, assorted native grasses, wildflowers, those tough shrubs that made it through the salt water flood and high winds. Reports I have seen indicate that shorebirds and coastal species are coming back. When I was there I saw an assortment of shorebirds, grackles, and martins (there is no lack of mosquitos right now!) that seemed to be dominating the scenery. A few people did have Martin houses and birdfeeders out to help with supplement food and housing. It is definitely a different habitat that pre-Ike though.

Misti said...

Wow, thanks for the update. I went to TAMUG so I am very familiar with the area. A lot of friends still live in the area and many had severe home damage. I watched as I saw places I went to all the time, lived at, change instantly.


Hi Misti,

Galveston area didn't fare quite as badly as Bolivar and Crystal Beach, but they had their share of damage. I think we hear more about Galveston damage because they were more populated (and lots of higher dollar homes too). Glad to be able to share some images with you....