Posted on September 14, 2021
Plans to build a coastal storm barrier have been in the works since Hurricane Ike devastated Galveston in 2008. Now, the project is taking another crucial step forward.
The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers released Friday its final study of a nearly $29 billion proposal to protect the Texas Gulf Coast from hurricanes and storm surge.
Plans to build a coastal storm barrier — also known as the “Ike Dike” — have been in the works since Hurricane Ike devastated Galveston in 2008.
“The impacts from Hurricane Ike, which peaked at a 20 plus foot storm surge along the Texas coast, really created the impetus for action,” said Col. Timothy Vail, the District Commander for the US Army Corps of Engineers Galveston District. “We don’t want to have to wait for another storm to start providing the level of protection that we need along the Texas coast.”
The Army Corps’ proposed project includes strategies for protecting the entire Texas Gulf Coast, spanning from beach restoration on South Padre Island to improving the seawall in Galveston.
The project’s main component is a massive gate system between Galveston Island and Bolivar Peninsula that would block storm surge from coming into the bay. This would include two, 650-foot wide surge gates at the mouth of Galveston Bay, each one reaching 22 feet high.
Vail said the gates could be prioritized and implemented first due to the immediate benefits they would provide.
“The gate structure allows the rest of the components of the projects to reach their maximum effectiveness, and building the gate structure allows us to obtain benefits as soon as the gate structures are in place,” he said.
Vail added that the gates wouldn’t be enough protection on their own and that the entire project “needs to be delivered because it’s all integrated.”
In the Galveston area, another key component includes constructing 43 miles of beach and dunes on the Bolivar Peninsula and West Galveston Island. The dunes would extend 14-feet tall on the landward side and 12-feet tall on the Gulf side, acting as an additional barrier against storm surge.
On top of that, the study also calls for implementing a so-called “ring barrier system,” stretching 18 miles around the backside of Galveston Island, and consisting of a series of floodwalls, gates, pump stations, and levees.
Though the release of the final study represents a significant step forward, the project still faces multiple steps before it becomes a fully-constructed reality — including federal approval and funding.
Initial estimates put the project’s cost between $23 billion and $32 billion. The latest draft pins it down at $28.8 billion.
The Army Corps estimates the project would reduce average annual storm damage costs by $2.31 billion — recovery costs from Hurricane Ike alone totaled about $30 billion dollars.
Federal funding would cover 65% of the project’s cost. Now that the final study has been published in the Federal Registrar, Vail said the next step is for the Chief of Engineers to sign off on the project. Then it will go to Congress, where it would likely be considered in 2022 under the Water Resources and Development Act, a bipartisan piece of legislation passed every two years to authorize projects by the Army Corps of Engineers.
On the local side, a bill passed during this year’s Texas legislative session created the Gulf Coast Protection District, currently comprised of a board of directors tasked with securing local funds for flood mitigation projects in coastal communities.
“Our job is to be the non-federal sponsor and look to ways to raise money in order to build it, to do our matching 35%,” said Bob Mitchell, president of the Bay Area Houston Economic Partnership and the vice president of the Gulf Coast Protection District.
He said they’re looking at alternative funding methods such as catastrophic and resiliency bonds, and could also implement a tax.
Even after securing funding, the majority of the project components still need to go through additional design and environmental impact processes before construction can start.
This would be another opportunity to address concerns from environmental groups and critics about how the project could impact the ecosystem in the bay and whether or not it adequately accounts for future sea level rise.
The Army Corps estimates all of that could take another 12 to 20 years before the entire project would be completed.