What’s next for the Texas coastal protection project?
Updated: Jul 13, 2021
By Chris Sallese
DEC Principal and Coastal Programs Coordinator
As former commander of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Galveston District, DEC’s Chris Sallese knows a lot about designing and executing major coastal projects. He applied that expertise to the Gulf Coast Community Protection and Recovery District’s 2018 Storm Surge Suppression Study, which developed a conceptual plan for protecting the Upper Texas Coast from tropical storm surge-related events. In this article, Chris shares his insights on the proposed multi-billion project, its benefits and next steps.
After years of discussion, debate and study on how to protect the upper Texas Coast from devastating floods and storm surges, we could be within two years of moving forward with the most significant coastal protection project since the Galveston Seawall was built in 1902.
On June 16, Texas Gov. Greg Abbot signed legislation establishing the Gulf Coast Protection District (GCPD) to serve as a local sponsor to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) for the design, construction and future operations and maintenance of a regional storm surge protection system. For the project to move forward, federal law requires USACE to have a local sponsor willing to pay 35 percent of project costs. The local sponsor must have the ability to raise funds through taxes or bonding capabilities typically dedicated for project expenses.
On June 22, Gov. Abbott announced the six directors that he is appointing to the new district’s board and executive leadership positions. Each county Commissioners' Court within the district’s boundaries – Chambers, Galveston, Harris, Jefferson and Orange counties – will also appoint a director.
WHAT HAPPENS NEXT?
USACE needs to finalize their Texas Coastal Study report and get the project authorized by Congress in the 2022 Water Resources Development Act. Then Congress would need to allocate construction funding, which could occur as early as 2023 under normal circumstances. The GCPD would then enter into a design agreement and a formal Project Sponsorship Agreement with USACE.
Congress could also bypass the normal process and jumpstart the funding process through other legislative means, such as the infrastructure bill currently being debated in Washington.
The GCPD will need to get voter approval within its boundaries to issue bonds to fund its portion of the project. Then it will also need to secure all lands, easements, rights of ways, relocations, and disposal areas for the project.
WHY THIS MATTERS
In 2008, Hurricane Ike caused an estimated $30 billion in damage and the loss of dozens of lives, ranking it among the top most destructive hurricanes in U.S. history.
In announcing his appointments to the district, Gov. Abbott said, “Strengthening our coastal regions and ports is vital not only to Texas, but to the entire nation. This project will go down in history as one of the most significant measures to protect Coastal Texas, its citizens and the economic activities this region provides.”
According to the Governor’s Office, Texas ports, including Houston, Galveston and Beaumont ports, handle 65 percent of all U.S. cargo. Refining and petrochemical industries within the district’s boundaries produce 60 percent of the nation’s aviation fuel, 42 percent of the nation’s specialty chemical feedstock, and 80 percent of the nation’s military grade fuel.
This will be the largest civil works project in U.S. history, designed to protect millions of lives and billions of dollars in personal property and industries essential for U.S. national security and commerce.
If you drive a car, travel by airplane, work in the energy or maritime industries, or buy groceries, you’ll be impacted every time this region is hit by a major storm. This coastal protection project is our best defense.