State and federal officials on Friday recommended a plan to protect the Texas coast from hurricanes – particularly the Houston area – with a barrier system made up of floodwalls, floodgates and seawall improvements that could cost up to $31 billion and offer storm surge protection for the largest petrochemical complex in the country.
The plan, part of a draft report put together by the Texas General Land Office and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, incorporates some ideas from proposals that were previously developed in the wake of 2008’s Hurricane Ike, which made landfall in Galveston and caused nearly $30 billion in damage. Most of the damage was due to storm surge, caused by storm winds pushing water onshore.
It follows last year’s devastating Hurricane Harvey, which killed 68 people and caused an estimated $125 billion in damage statewide and flooded thousands of homes in the Houston area.
The proposal focuses on preventing storm surge from entering Galveston Bay, which leads into the Houston Ship Channel, home to some of the largest oil refineries in the world and 40 percent of the nation’s petrochemical industry.
The plan calls for 54 miles (87 kilometers) of levees, 20 miles (32 kilometers) of floodwalls and a variety of floodgates that would stretch from Bolivar Peninsula, west of Galveston, through Galveston Island. Improvements would also be made to Galveston’s existing seawall, which was built after the devastating storm of 1900 that killed more than 6,000 people.
The most expensive part of the new proposal is a series of gates, including a 1,200-foot (365-meter) floating gate, that would cost $5 billion to $6 billion and would close off during a storm an entrance between Bolivar and Galveston Island that eventually leads into the Houston Ship Channel.
The plan also calls for 2.2 miles (3.5 kilometers) of dune and beach restoration in South Padre Island in the southern part of the state as well as nine projects to restore, protect and enhance shorelines, marsh habitats and beaches and dunes along the Texas Gulf Coast.
Texas Land Commissioner George P. Bush said the protection the plan would offer to the petrochemical industry in the Houston Ship Channel is important for preserving national security as the area plays a major role in the nation’s refining capabilities.
“There is an environmental balance to this as well. This plan doesn’t just protect industry and people. It protects the environment,” Bush said in a phone interview.
The proposal incorporates some ideas from a project known as the coastal spine, which was first proposed after Hurricane Ike by a Texas A&M University at Galveston professor and is also called the “Ike Dike,” and from Rice University’s Severe Storm Prediction, Education and Evacuation from Disasters Center.
Six meetings have been scheduled in November and December for the public to discuss the proposal.
But even if approved, the proposal could take more than 20 years before becoming a reality.
A final version of the report is not set to be completed until 2021, when it will be presented to Congress. If Congress decides to fund the project, the design process could take two to five years, followed by construction, which could take another 10 to 15 years.
Bush, who thinks the federal government should pay for 100 percent of the construction costs, said he’s optimistic the plan will ultimately be realized.
“I’m in public service to take on challenges that go beyond a political cycle … and do what’s right by the people of Texas. This happens to be one,” Bush said.
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