Ever since Hurricane Ike more than a decade ago, a pie-in-the-sky vision for many has been a barrier that would better protect coastal Texas around Galveston Bay. There have been a few visions of what could be done, but many of the plans focused more on protecting Houston than communities actually located along sandy shores.
A plan released this week by Rice University is estimated to come in cheaper than the plan currently being considered by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers based on a Texas A&M at Galveston proposal, something that could even work alongside current channel dredging plans. It would also offer protections to the more-populated areas of Galveston.
The catch? Brazoria County seems to have been left out of the mix.
When the county south of Houston is home to one of the largest petrochemical plants in the country and is gaining more and more people each year, that seems like a big blind spot.
The new proposal would focus on using clay dredged from the Houston Ship Channel to build marshes and parks to protect communities along the coast in Galveston Bay, a ring levee around Galveston and a gate system, according to the Texas Tribune.
Rice’s plan was developed with two benefits over the A&M proposition: it could be completed more quickly and for less money. It’s an interesting idea that likely many are taking very seriously, but those benefits don’t outweigh the areas this plan might not address.
A&M’s plan, the coastal spine, is expected to come in with a price tag of about $22 billion, according to Army Corps officials. Texas environmental attorney Jim Blackburn said Rice’s plan would come in between $3 billion and $6 billion. It could also be completed by 2027 instead of the coastal spine’s estimated 15 years.
If you were up in Houston or already behind the seawall in Galveston, the plan might make a lot of sense. But for the rest of us, it leaves much to be desired.
Houston is obviously the priority for major investment, but the question is why. If this is simply to protect the largest number of residents from the brunt of the storm, that makes sense, but if this is all about money, then leaving Brazoria County’s infrastructure vulnerable seems unwise. And considering much of Rice’s plan is based around creating parkland along the Houston Ship Channel and boasts a smaller price tag, the latter seems to be the case.
Let’s not forget, improvements were already approved for Freeport by the Trump administration following Harvey.
Another point Blackburn discussed with the Texas Tribune was the scope and cost of A&M’s concept likely will require federal funding, meaning going through Congress. Considering Texas still is waiting on billions in federal recovery money from when Harvey struck two years later, that doesn’t make the 15-year timeline sound like it’s set in stone.
So what it comes down to is whether we want coastal protection done quickly or most effectively. And honestly, there’s no easy answer.
The next storm is always on the horizon. Hard choices will need to be made regarding who is protected from future storms, and the reality is Brazoria County will have to fight harder than Houston or Galveston for a piece of that pie.