Oct 16, 2013 3:58 PM
UPPER PADRE ISLAND - Local leaders are scrambling to get details on a pending land deal that could significantly limit public access to about five miles of public beach just south of Bob Hall Pier on the Kleberg County line.
KRIS-6 on Wednesday confirmed that the Texas General Land Office and the Nature Conservancy are negotiating for the stretch of land on both sides of Park Road 22.
The deal could happen as soon as early 2014 and could end with the Conservancy handing the land over to the National Parks Service for inclusion in the Padre Island National Seashore.
Officials with the Nature Conservancy on Tuesday confirmed they are planning to accept the property from the Texas General Land Office and reimburse the state for the value of the land, which is part of the Permanent School Fund.
General Land Office spokesman Jim Suydam said state law requires that Permanent School Fund property values or sales prices be kept confidential.
The Nature Conservancy said the idea is to bring the ecologically-diverse beach under the protection of the National Park Service.
But local leaders are concerned they are only now learning about the deal, which could significantly alter traffic patterns farther up the beach where vehicles can sometimes sit bumper-to-bumper on busy weekends.
State Rep. Todd Hunter, R-Corpus Christi, said he was not informed but that the protocol would be to inform the lawmaker inside whose district the beach resides.
In this case, it is state Rep. J.M. Lozano, R-Kingsville, who also said on Wednesday that he was not aware of any pending deal.
Taking five miles of beach out of state hands and placing it into federal hands could mean that, one day soon, vehicle access will be restricted, said Gabi Hiphold, executive director of the Island Strategic Action Committee.
"It's going to create a traffic problem for parking on the beach for turning around," she said.
She said the the boundary line, which is less than a mile from Bob Hall Pier, could mean traffic snarls and safety hazards for beach goers, particularly on busy weekends and during Spring Break.
But Hiphold's main concern is whether planners can devise another way to divert traffic, on short notice, should the deal happen sooner rather than later.
"We don't want to be caught off guard and then we haven't prepared right," she said. "We haven't organized our beach, we haven't organized our streets."
Hunter, who as a committee Chairman in the Texas Legislature is considered an insider within the Capitol complex, said he is disturbed that the Coastal Bend has been kept out of the loop.
"Number one, it doesn't seem like many people knew what was going on, two, none of us were properly notified on all the extent of all this," he said.
He is organizing a meeting on Monday to call local leaders to the table. He said the hope is that representatives from both the General Land Office, the National Park Service that operates the Padre Island National Seashore and the Nature Conservancy, will be on hand.
Because the park is closed due to the ongoing shutdown, federal officials are not able to comment on plans to fold the beach into park boundaries.
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