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Galveston County Daily News Header Making a Coastal Barrier System Happen!

Making the Case | Roadmap for Action

August 11, 2014

Last week a joint House and Senate committee from the Texas legislature held a hearing at Texas A&M Galveston on the issue of building a coastal barrier system.  There was a sense of urgency among the 10-15 members present.  Today we want to present for you the case for having a coastal barrier system and then present a course of action to make it happen.

Making the Case:

  • About 50% of the nation’s refining capacity is located on the Houston Ship Channel;
  • The Galveston/Houston ports are the busiest in the U.S.;
  • This port has more exports than even New York;
  • $500,000,000-worth of goods transit the Houston Ship Channel every day;
  • Protecting the refining capacity and port facilities is a national economic and national security issue.  If this infrastructure is taken out by a hurricane it could take weeks/months to bring these facilities back on line.  In the meantime people all around the state/country will see gas prices sky rocket.  So this is a National issue and not just a regional one.
  • Flooding from storms can also have an environmental impact.  Consider the effect of the recent collision between a ship and a barge in the Houston Ship Channel.  It closed down the channel for several days.  But if one of the petroleum storage tanks was flooded releasing its contents into the channel the impact would pale by comparison.
  • Our region is also one of the major hubs for oil pipelines.  They are also threatened by major hurricanes.
  • Having a coastal barrier system that includes the Bolivar Peninsula, Galveston Island, and the ship channel would:
    - protect the entire bay, not just Houston
    - help protect the environment and the seven estuaries/wetlands that surround Galveston Bay, and
    - help mitigate the flood insurance rates for the entire region.
  • It cost the Federal government about $30 billion to pay for the rebuilding after hurricane Ike.  The cost estimates for a coastal barrier system are about $15 Billion and, once built, the only cost would be for maintaining the channel gates across the Bolivar Roads entrance to the ship channel.
  • Currently we are not prepared for another major hurricane. We should prepare now before the next one hits.
  • And finally, because the Houston Ship Channel is a navigable waterway it falls under the Commerce Clause of the U.S. Constitution.  This means that paying for a coastal barrier system is, and should be, the responsibility of the Federal government.

Course of Action:

  • First get it together, build a consensus from the stake holders on what needs to be done.
    [This has been done]

  • Second, develop the plans for how to accomplish it.  We need one plan not competing plans.
    [This has also been accomplished]

  • Third, start now to identify members of the U.S. House and Senate committees of jurisdiction – both the authorizing and appropriation committees -- who will help move the project forward.
    [Particularly targeting members of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee]

  • Fourth, have legislation written and enacted that
    (a) mandates the Corps of Engineers to move the project forward,
    [Saying you will build this]

    (b) sets deadlines for accomplishing the work,
    [a set number of years] and

    (c) provides the money required to get the job done.
    [Currently the high end estimate is about $15 billion]

  • Fifth, all of us should be lighting up the phone lines of members of the Texas Congressional delegation calling for them to support the proposal and move it forward.  This is not a Democrat or Republican issue; it is a national one that should cut across party lines.

Hindsight is always better than foresight.  We should be forward thinkers and act now before the next storm hits!

Bill, Mark and John

Related column: March 24, 2014
The notes [in red] were added subsequent to this column being published