Galveston Bay Coastal Spine
An Issue in Need of Public Input
by Helen E. Drummond, Executive Director
Will construction of an Ike Dike or "Coastal Spine" structure in the Houston Galveston area be the largest project of our time in our region in terms of the scale and scope of its impact?
The answer to that question is not currently known but Houston Audubon is working with national, state, and local conservation groups to track, monitor, and respond to actions that could make such a significant project happen.
The Ike Dike proposed in the aftermath of Hurricane Ike in 2008 is a conceptual coastal barrier composed of a system of flood gates and levees along Bolivar Peninsula and Galveston Island. The barrier, currently envisioned as a 17 foot wall extending 60 miles from High Island to San Luis pass, would be designed to protect the Houston-Galveston area from a catastrophic storm surge. The specific positioning of the structure along the coastline has not been delineated but such a structure could affect Houston Audubon properties on the peninsula.
Since introduction of the Ike Dike idea, opinions have grown from it being an expensive, farfetched and impractical concept in 2009 and 2010 to a must-have project broadly supported by state and local elected officials today. In April 2017, Texas Land Commissioner George P. Bush and more than 60 other Texas leaders sent President Trump a letter requesting he include a coastal barrier system for the Houston-Galveston area in his infrastructure plan. Six months later in October, a coastal spine was included in a $61 billion plan Governor Abbott shared with Congressional leaders in Washington, D.C. to rebuild Houston and the Texas coast after Hurricane Harvey. While a coastal spine would not have prevented the impact of torrential rainfall caused by Hurricane Harvey, some Texas leaders have begun to utilize Hurricane Harvey in their call to quickly act and fund such a structure.
So how did opinions go from too expensive (currently estimated at $15 billion) and farfetched to a coastal spine should be funded now? In a nutshell, the wheels of action were quietly, but steadily turning to build a reasonable case over the years; and now the fear of the next big storm is driving the process.
Where are we now? The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers is currently conducting a feasibility and alternatives analysis. Based on the results of this evaluation, a plan for reducing flood risks from coastal storm surge will be selected. The plan is expected to be released in the spring of 2018. We don't know which plan will be selected but we want to be sure the potential environmental impacts were evaluated and considered in the selection of the plan. We also want to be sure the potential impact to Houston Audubon sanctuaries and migrating birds are a part of the environmental analysis.
We support a comprehensive evaluation of options that can help protect us from the dangers of a large hurricane. We just want to make sure that the appropriate process is followed and the public is engaged in the process. Houston Audubon has a rich history of being actively engaged in important advocacy issues. That has not changed but we will need everyone's help keeping up with the movement of this project and wanted to be sure to share with you what we know so far.
We hope to keep you connected to the latest developments of the project as decisions are being made and the potential environmental, social, and economic impacts and consequences of those decisions are made known.
Timeline of Action related to a Texas Coastal Barrier System on the Upper Texas Coast
- In 2009, in the aftermath of Hurricane Ike, the Ike Dike concept was proposed.
- In 2009 the Severe Storm Prediction Education and Evacuation from Disasters (SSPEED) Center at Rice University began research related to problems caused by Hurricane Ike and potential management practices that could inform future storm mitigation strategies. Research efforts continued through 2014.
- In 2010 Governor Rick Perry formed the Gulf Coast Community Protection and Recovery District (GCCPRD), a 6-county public corporation, to examine potential regional approaches to storm surge suppression. GCCPRD included Harris, Galveston, Chambers, Brazoria, Orange and Jefferson counties.
- In 2011, the SSPEED Center released a report that contained proposals outlining discrete alternate projects that protected targeted areas and that could be built quickly and funded locally. Proposals included a gate and levee structure protecting the Houston Ship Channel, new levees to protect highly populated areas on east Galveston Island and west Galveston Bay and formation of the Lone Star Coastal National Recreation area, which would create economic incentives for preserving natural areas along the coast.
- In 2012, Bill Merrell and a fact-finding delegation of over two dozen Galveston community leaders, academics, and a few state officials visited the Scheldt Storm Surge Barrier in the Netherlands. The visit strengthened local backing and support for the Ike Dike concept. Following the visit, delegation members shared their experience in the Netherlands with other key community leaders and groups like the Bay Area Economic Partnership through a series of presentations and meetings; additional field trips to the Netherlands followed.
- In 2013 the Bay Area Houston Economic Partnership began raising funds for a comprehensive study that could help garner Congressional support. This same year, the General Land Office provided funds for GCCPRD to conduct storm surge studies. Studies were completed in three phases over several years.
- In 2013, the Texas Legislature passed House Bill 3459 and established a joint interim committee to study the “feasibility and desirability” of creating and maintaining a coastal barrier system.
- In 2014 Texas legislators lamented a disagreement on how to protect the Houston region against storm surge and urged that a plan be brought to the Legislature as soon as possible.
- In 2014, the U.S. Corps of Engineers (USACOE) is authorized to conduct a reconnaissance study to determine if there is Federal interest in in pursuing a feasibility study related to coastal storm risk management and ecosystem restoration along the entire coast of Texas. Fact sheet regarding the study can be found at http://www.swg.usace.army.mil/Portals/26/docs/PAO/Coastal%20Texas.pdf. Report of study and their finding of interest was published in May 2015. To see report, go to http://www.swg.usace.army.mil/Portals/26/docs/PAO/TC/Coastal%20Texas%20Section%20905_b_%20-2015%20May%2018.pdf
- In August 2014, Texas Legislature’s Joint Interim Committee on Coastal Barrier Systems held public hearings where they heard from agencies and researchers about several coastal protection options, including a coastal spine and inland barrier structures. The December 2014 Report to the 84th Legislature summarized hearing testimonies and outlined a set of recommendations, including use of urgency in identifying the best plan for coastal barrier protection, identification of potential funding sources, and continuation of the committee’s work.
- In 2015, the 84th Texas Legislature passed SB695 to establish another joint interim committee on coastal barrier systems to continue the work done by the previous committee. A public hearing was held by the committee in April 2016
- In November 2015 the Texas General Land Office was identified as the non-Federal sponsor of the USACOE Coastal Texas Protection and Restoration study.
- In March 2016, the US Army Corps of Engineers declared its intention to prepare a Draft Integrated Feasibility Report and Environmental Impact Statement (DIFR-EIS) as required under the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA), to determine the feasibility of developing and carrying out a comprehensive plan to reduce coastal storm flood risk through structural and nonstructural measures that take advantage of natural features like barrier islands and storm surge storage in wetlands.
- In April 2016, the Texas Legislature’s Joint Interim Committee on Coastal Barrier Systems reviewed updated information on the various options during a public hearing similar to the one held August 2014. Information from that hearing can be found in the Legislative Reference Library of Texas at http://www.lrl.state.tx.us/whatsNew/client/index.cfm/2016/4/4/Interim-Hearings--Week-of-April-11.
- In June 2016, GCCPRD recommended a coastal spine from High Island to San Luis Pass, a navigation gate at Clear Lake, and ring levee around Galveston Island in its report, Phase 3: Recommended Actions for the Storm Surge Suppression Study. Construction cost estimated at $6 billion, not including the ring levee and navigation gate, with annual operations and maintenance costing $29 million.
- In December 2016, the Texas Legislature’s Joint Interim Committee on Coastal Barrier Systems issued its Report to the 85th Legislature. Recommendations included the need to coalesce around a singular coastal barrier protection option and designate a local, non-federal partner to work with the USACOE. The report can be found at http://www.senate.state.tx.us/cmtes/85/c840/c840.InterimReport2016.pdf
- In January 2017, the USACOE held a non-governmental organization briefing to inform the conservation community of the status of their Coastal Texas Protection and Restoration study.
- In April 2017, Texas Land Commission George P. Bush and more than 60 other Texas Leaders sent president Trump a letter requesting he include a coastal barrier system for the Houston-Galveston area in his infrastructure plan.
- In October 2017, Governor Abbott included three coastal spines in his $61 billion plan to rebuild Houston and the Texas coast after Hurricane Harvey.
- May 2018: The U.S. Army Corp of Engineers will release its Tentatively Selected Plan
- July 2018: Draft Report Released for Public/Agency Comments
- August 2018: Public Meetings
- September 2018: Final Public/Agency Comments on Draft Report Due
- October 2018: The Corps of Engineers makes its final decision on a plan
- February 2021: Final Report Released for State and Agency Review
To learn more about what the Corps has done or is doing on the coastal barrier systems in our area, go to http://www.swg.usace.army.mil/Missions/Projects/Coastal-Texas-Feasibility-Study/. We will also update the page as we learn more and opportunities to provide input is announced.
If you have questions, concerns or comments, you can contact the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers at:
Coastal Texas Feasibility Study
USACE Galveston District
P.O. Box 1229
Galveston, TX 77553-1229