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September 19, 2016

Last week was the eighth anniversary of Hurricane Ike making landfall in Galveston County.  It was a massive storm that claimed lives and had an economic impact on thousands of people.

On August 11, 2014, we wrote a column for the Daily News entitled “Making a Coastal Barrier System Happen.”  It was an attempt to give our legislators in Washington a road map on how to proceed. 

As we said back then, the development and construction of a coastal barrier system is clearly a federal responsibility because the Houston Ship Channel, and the Port of Galveston, which it would protect, are navigable waterways and therefore fall under the Commerce Clause of the U.S. Constitution.  This means paying for a coastal barrier system is, and should be, the responsibility of the Federal government.  

Two years ago we made the case that protecting the Houston ship channel’s refining facilities -- that provide over 50% our nation’s transportation fuels --  is both a national economic and security issue.  In other words, this is not just a local or regional issue.

We also pointed out that destruction from Hurricane Ike cost the Federal government about $30 billion to pay rebuilding costs after the storm. Compare that to estimates for a coastal barrier system which range between $10-12 billion.  Once constructed, the only ongoing cost would be for maintaining the channel gates across the Bolivar Roads entrance to the ship channel.

In the Spring of this year Senator Cornyn and a number of House members from Texas introduced the Corps' Obligation to Assist in Safeguarding Texas Act  (quaintly called the “COAST Act”) which is a bill asking the Army Corps of Engineers to take into account “studies, data, or information” to expedite the completion of reports on constructing a coastal barrier.  IF the Secretary of the Army determines the report produces a plan that is justified, the bill asks the Secretary to proceed with preconstruction, engineering and design of the project.  Both House and Senate versions of this legislation are sitting in committee without hearings being scheduled.  It’s highly unlikely either bill will ever see the light of day, but these bills do score points with constituents back home.

Our “road map” called for specific actions that could get this coastal barrier system completed.  It included identifying House and Senate members on the authorizing and appropriation committees who could help move the project forward. Next it proposed legislation that 
     (a) mandates (as opposed to requesting) the Army Corps of Engineers to move the project forward, 
     (b) sets a specific deadline for accomplishing the work, and  finally
     (c) provides the money required to get the job done.

Having bills that are languishing in committee falls short of the goal of making the Ike Dike a reality.  It‘s time our elected officials in Washington start working with their colleagues to build support for mandating and funding this project while establishing concrete milestones and deadlines for its completion.   We should think proactively and act now before the next storm hits!

Bill, John, and Mark

Related Editorial by Michael Smith, Editor of the Galveston County Daily News (Subscription Required)
A side effect of following our road map would be to reduce the cost of flood insurance against
the risk of rising water.  How to address balancing having reasonable premiums for flood insurance
and the risks associated with flooding from tropical storms is the subject of Mr. Smith's editorial.


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