Tuesday, January 09, 2007

Who Owns the Land Under the Water?

I must admit, the more I research the topic the more confused I get. Who owns the land under the water? That turns out to be a real corker of a question.

I can understand how if a reservoir flooded valley where they used to have surveyed lots, you can actually "own" some submerged lands. Down here on the coast it is much, much more different.

In theory the Texas General Land Office "owns" all submerged lands along the coastline, acting as a public steward for the good people of Texas. So you can't own a single spot of land below the GLO mean high waater mark, right?

Wrong. One can actually have deed and title to the land, which down here is quite useful if you have mineral rights too. You'd be surprised. Heck, the Town of Port Isabel tried to annex submerged land to say it was "contiguous" with an island five miles away. All kinds of people own that land we're walking on. I wouldn't be surpised if the Nicholas Balli family really owned it all (the Balli family was original settlers and claimed they got swindled by a carpet bagger).

Navigation districts, now that's a fine one too. I checked around and yes, both local districts do in fact own land under the water, some of it quite deep. Last I checked, they owned the land west of the Dolphin Cove Oyster Bar in Isla Blanca Park. Matter of fact, one of the recommendations from the Bay Area Task Force would be to annex Tomplins Channel on the bayside.

The GLO really has title to most all of coastal Texas since the the 1890's, mainly for auctioning off oil and gas extraction acreage. They had the original Spanish grants, the Balli Land, and everying down since then. It is true that in most cases ownership is simple, meaning nobody but the State, but in other cases up to six different kinds of entities can own the same submerged land at the same time. It is a true lawyer's heaven.