Experts share concerns, alternatives for proposed Texas coastal barrier

Area experts on March 7 spoke at length about the proposed Texas coastal barrier plan.

Area experts on March 7 spoke at length about the proposed Texas coastal barrier plan.

The Army Corps of Engineers is taking steps to adjust its Coastal Texas Study based on public feedback, but experts still have a myriad of concerns about the multi-billion-dollar plan.

Local experts and leaders gathered in Seabrook on March 7 for a forum to discuss the proposed plan to build along Galveston Island and Bolivar Peninsula a 76-mile coastal barrier, which makes up the majority of the Corps and Texas General Land Office’s $23 billion-$32 billion plan to make the Bay Area more resilient to storm surge during hurricanes.

Project Manager Kelly Burks-Copes led the discussion by saying the Corps is considering adjusting its plan according to public feedback.

“We are now taking in that info, digesting it,” she said.

The Corps and GLO have started evaluating moving the proposed barrier toward the front of Galveston Island and changing its construction from engineered structures, such as walls, to natural solutions, such as dunes and beaches, Burks-Copes said.

The organizations in a couple weeks will host a gate design workshop that will include experts from around the world flying in to review the Texas coastal barrier plan and propose ways to efficiently design the massive navigable gate proposed between Galveston Island and Bolivar Peninsula and reduce construction costs. The Corps hopes to find ways to save at least 10 percent on estimated costs of the barrier’s construction, she said.

Once the Corps comes up with a final plan, it may hold a second series of public information meetings and again accept public comment, Burks-Copes said.

“We are always trying to be more and more transparent and not a black box,” she said.

Galveston Bay Foundation President Bob Stokes shared several concerns about the Corps’ plan.

The proposed barrier between both islands would be 10,000 feet wide, and its many walls and gates would restrict daily flow in and out of the bay by 27 percent, Stoke said.

“That’s a pretty big impact, we believe,” he said.

The Corps’ plan inadequately analyzes effects to water quality and bay wildlife. A gate between the islands would lead to shoreline erosion, hydrology changes, algae blooms, loss of wetlands and other problems the Corps needs to investigate further before action is taken, Stokes said.

“Our position is let’s make informed decisions here,” he said.

Experts also proposed alternatives to the Corps’ plan.

Jim Blackburn is co-director of the Severe Storm Prediction, Education, & Evacuation from Disasters Center at Rice University. He presented a Galveston Bay Park plan that would include building structured barriers from the Houston Ship Channel down through Galveston Bay to Galveston Island.

Without protection, a Category 3 storm surge could flood the Houston Ship Channel 25 feet, which would spill an estimated 90 million gallons of oil, Blackburn said.

“It’s a huge spill. In my opinion, that would wipe out Galveston Bay for decades,” he said.

The Galveston Bay Park plan could help prevent such a catastrophe, he said. It would cost an estimated $3 billion-$6 billion and be completed by 2025-27, and the Houston Ship Channel could pay for its share of the project, Blackburn said.

“We can work together. We can figure this out,” he said.
By Jake Magee
Jake Magee has been a print journalist for several years, covering numerous beats including city government, education, business and more. Starting off at a daily newspaper in southern Wisconsin, Magee covered two small cities before being promoted to covering city government in the heart of newspaper's coverage area. He moved to Houston in mid-2018 to be the editor for and launch the Bay Area edition of Community Impact Newspaper.

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