House advances giant Texas storm surge project in water bill

Dec 9, 2022, 2:54 PM | Updated: Dec 10, 2022, 4:58 am
FILE - Cyclists ride past debris piled up on the seawall road Sept. 14, 2008, after Hurricane Ike h...

FILE - Cyclists ride past debris piled up on the seawall road Sept. 14, 2008, after Hurricane Ike hit the Texas coast in Galveston. Fourteen years after Hurricane Ike ripped through thousands of homes and businesses near Galveston, the U.S. House of Representatives voted Thursday, Dec. 8, 2022, to authorize the $858 billion defense bill. It includes major projects to improve the nation’s waterways and protect communities against floods made more severe by climate change. (AP Photo/Matt Slocum, File)

(AP Photo/Matt Slocum, File)

              FILE - People fish in Galveston Bay, on Sept. 4, 2020, in Galveston, Texas. Fourteen years after Hurricane Ike ripped through thousands of homes and businesses near Galveston, the U.S. House of Representatives voted Thursday, Dec. 8, 2022, to authorize the $858 billion defense bill. It includes major projects, such as the Ike Dike, to improve the nation’s waterways and protect communities against floods made more severe by climate change. (AP Photo/David J. Phillip, File)
            
              FILE - Cyclists ride past debris piled up on the seawall road Sept. 14, 2008, after Hurricane Ike hit the Texas coast in Galveston. Fourteen years after Hurricane Ike ripped through thousands of homes and businesses near Galveston, the U.S. House of Representatives voted Thursday, Dec. 8, 2022, to authorize the $858 billion defense bill. It includes major projects to improve the nation’s waterways and protect communities against floods made more severe by climate change. (AP Photo/Matt Slocum, File)

HOUSTON (AP) — Fourteen years after Hurricane Ike ripped through thousands of homes and businesses near Galveston, Texas — but mostly spared the region’s oil refineries and chemical plants — the U.S. House of Representatives voted Thursday to authorize the most expensive project ever recommended by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to protect against the next raging storm.

Ike erased beachfront neighborhoods, causing $30 billion in damage. But with so much of the nation’s petrochemical industry in the Houston-Galveston corridor, it could have been even worse. That close call inspired marine science professor Bill Merrell to first propose a massive coastal barrier to protect against a direct hit.

Now, the National Defense Authorization Act includes authorizations for a $34 billion plan that borrows from Merrell’s idea.

“It was quite different than anything we had done in the United States and it took us a little while to come around to it,” said Merrell of Texas A&M University at Galveston.

The House passed the $858 billion defense bill by a vote of 350-80. It includes major projects to improve the nation’s waterways and protect communities against floods made more severe by climate change.

Specifically, the vote advances the Water Resources Development Act of 2022. That lays out a sprawling set of policies for the Army Corps and authorizes projects that touch on navigation, improving the environment and protecting against storms. It typically passes every two years. It received strong, bipartisan support and now advances to the Senate.

The Texas coastal protection project far outstrips any of the 24 other projects greenlit by the bill. There is a $6.3 billion plan to deepen vital shipping channels near New York City and a $1.2 billion effort to raise homes and businesses on the central Louisiana coast.

“No matter what side of politics you are on, everyone is interested in having good water resources,” said Sandra Knight, president of WaterWonks LLC.

THE IKE DIKE

Researchers at Rice University in Houston have estimated that a Category 4 storm with a 24-foot storm surge could damage storage tanks and release more than 90 million gallons of oil and hazardous substances.

The most prominent feature of the coastal barrier would be floodgates, including some 650 feet wide – roughly the equivalent of a 60-story building on its side – to prevent storm surge from entering Galveston Bay and plowing up the Houston Ship Channel. An 18-mile ring barrier system would also be built along the backside of Galveston Island to protect homes and businesses from storm surge. The plan took six years of study involving roughly 200 people.

There will also be beach and dune ecosystem restoration projects along the Texas coast. The Houston Audubon Society raised concerns the project would destroy some bird habitat and harm fish, shrimp and crabs populations in the Bay.

NEXT STEPS

The legislation authorizes the construction of the project, but funding will remain a challenge — money must still be allocated. The huge cost burden falls heaviest on the federal government, but local and state entities also will have to pitch in billions. Construction could take two decades.

“It significantly reduces the risk of that catastrophic storm surge event that is not recoverable,” said Mike Braden, chief of the Army Corps Galveston District’s mega projects division.

The bill also includes a range of policy measures. When future hurricanes hit for example, coastal protections can be rebuilt with climate change in mind. Designers will be able to think about how much seas will rise when they draw up plans.

“The future for a lot of these communities is not going to look like the past,” said Jimmy Hague, senior water policy advisor at the Nature Conservancy.

The water resources bill continues a push towards wetlands and other flood solutions that use nature to absorb water instead of concrete walls to keep it at bay. On the Mississippi River below St. Louis, for example, a new program will help restore ecosystems and create a mix of flood control projects. There are also provisions for studying long-term drought.

There are measures to improve outreach with tribes and make it easier to complete work in poorer, historically disadvantaged communities.

It can take a long time to study projects, move them through Congress and find funding. Merrell, who will turn 80 in February, said he hopes to see some of the Texas project be constructed but he doesn’t think he’ll be around to see it finished.

“I just hope the end product comes and it protects my children and grandchildren and all the other citizens of this area,” Merrell said.

___

Phillis reported from St. Louis.

___

The Associated Press receives support from the Walton Family Foundation for coverage of water and environmental policy. The AP is solely responsible for all content. For all of AP’s environmental coverage, visit https://apnews.com/hub/climate-and-environment

Copyright © The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

AP

Associated Press

Strongest earthquake in 40 years startles western New York

BUFFALO, N.Y. (AP) — A small earthquake rumbled through western New York early Monday, alarming people in a region unaccustomed to such shaking but apparently causing no significant damage. The U.S. Geological Survey preliminarily reported a 3.8 earthquake centered east of Buffalo in the suburb of West Seneca at about 6:15 a.m. Seismologist Yaareb Altaweel […]
1 day ago
Large advertisements adorn buildings and electronic billboards leading up to the NFL Super Bowl LVI...
Associated Press

Fox sells out Super Bowl ads: crypto out, alcohol in

NEW YORK (AP) — Fox says it has sold out all of its Super Bowl LVII ad space as of the end of January. The big game between the Kansas City Chiefs and the Philadelphia Eagles takes place on Sunday. The Super Bowl is advertising’s biggest stage, with advertisers jockeying to get their products in […]
1 day ago
FILE - In this July 12, 2017 file photo, an issue of the National Enquirer featuring President Dona...
Associated Press

National Enquirer, ensnared in “catch-and-kill” is sold

The National Enquirer, the scandal-plagued tabloid that engaged in “catch-and-kill” practices to bury stories about Donald Trump during his presidential campaign, has been sold. VVIP is also buying the National Examiner and Globe from magazine publisher a360 Media in an all-cash deal, though exact financial terms were not disclosed. In December 2018 the parent company […]
1 day ago
Patriot missile launchers acquired from the U.S. last year are seen deployed in Warsaw, Poland, Mon...
Associated Press

Poland deploys Patriot batteries to capital city, Warsaw

WARSAW, Poland (AP) — Patriot missile batteries that Poland acquired from the U.S. last year have been deployed to the country’s capital Warsaw as part of military exercise, according to Poland’s defense ministry. Poland is taking additional steps to strengthen its defensive capabilities as Russia’s war in neighboring Ukraine enters its second year later this […]
1 day ago
FILE - People visit Magic Kingdom Park at Walt Disney World Resort in Lake Buena Vista, Florida, on...
Associated Press

Florida to begin session on Disney district, migrant flights

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (AP) — Florida lawmakers will meet Monday to complete a state takeover of Walt Disney World’s self-governing district and expand a migrant relocation program, key conservative priorities of Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis ahead of his expected White House run. Republican leaders of the statehouse, in coordination with DeSantis, have ordered the Legislature to […]
1 day ago
Associated Press

Media watchdog urges release of journalist detained in Kabul

PARIS (AP) — Media watchdog Reporters Without Borders along with 14 French media outlets and production companies on Monday called on Afghanistan’s Taliban rulers to release a journalist imprisoned for a month in Kabul. In a joint statement, RSF and French media said journalist Mortaza Behboudi, with dual French and Afghan citizenship, was arrested on […]
1 day ago

Sponsored Articles

safety from crime...

As crime increases, our safety measures must too

It's easy to be accused of fearmongering regarding crime, but Seattle residents might have good reason to be concerned for their safety.
Comcast Ready for Business Fund...
Ilona Lohrey | President and CEO, GSBA

GSBA is closing the disparity gap with Ready for Business Fund

GSBA, Comcast, and other partners are working to address disparities in access to financial resources with the Ready for Business fund.
SHIBA WA...

Medicare open enrollment is here and SHIBA can help!

The SHIBA program – part of the Office of the Insurance Commissioner – is ready to help with your Medicare open enrollment decisions.
Lake Washington Windows...

Choosing Best Windows for Your Home

Lake Washington Windows and Doors is a local window dealer offering the exclusive Leak Armor installation.
Anacortes Christmas Tree...

Come one, come all! Food, Drink, and Coastal Christmas – Anacortes has it all!

Come celebrate Anacortes’ 11th annual Bier on the Pier! Bier on the Pier takes place on October 7th and 8th and features local ciders, food trucks and live music - not to mention the beautiful views of the Guemes Channel and backdrop of downtown Anacortes.
Swedish Cyberknife Treatment...

The revolutionary treatment of Swedish CyberKnife provides better quality of life for majority of patients

There are a wide variety of treatments options available for men with prostate cancer. One of the most technologically advanced treatment options in the Pacific Northwest is Stereotactic Body Radiation Therapy using the CyberKnife platform at Swedish Medical Center.
House advances giant Texas storm surge project in water bill