What’s in the $ 29 million proposal to build a Texas coastal backbone to protect our coast from future hurricanes?

AUSTIN (Nexstar) – The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers completed its final proposal to study the Texas coast on Friday, often nicknamed the “Ike Dike” after Hurricane Ike devastated the coast of Texas in 2008.

The next step is the approval of Congress and then the allocation of funding. The current price of the entire project is set at nearly $ 29 billion and would take 20 years to complete.

Jim Blackburn, a professor at Rice University and co-director of the Center for Severe Disaster Prediction, Education and Evacuation, said Texas is lucky that Tropical Storm Nicholas, which made landfall as a Category 1 hurricane, was not. a category 4. or 5.

“Nicolas was kind of a baby storm,” Blackburn said. “And it was scary, even being such a small storm. But it’s hard to imagine the strength of a Category 4 and Category 5 storm that would carry 25 feet of water into Galveston Bay and the Houston Boat Channel. “

He said it’s only a matter of time before another major storm, like Hurricane Harvey, hits our shores.

“We have been living on good fortune in the Galveston Bay area for a long time. And we can’t depend on that for the next 20-30 years where we have to build those defenses, ”Blackburn explained.

That’s exactly why the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers began work on the Coastal Column project six years ago, after Hurricane Ike wreaked havoc on our state and was only Category 2.

“The recovery costs of Hurricane Ike, which is what spurred this project to begin, were more than $ 32 billion. The price of Harvey, which happened most recently, was $ 125 billion. “So, in essence, the $ 28.9 billion of this project is paid for themselves in a hurricane, in a storm,” said Dr. Kelly Burks-Copes, project principal at Coastal Texas Study.

He said the project links “gray” infrastructure, such as flood walls and artificial dikes and bombs, with “green” infrastructure, such as restoring our natural ecosystems along the coast.

“The first part of the plan is to put a series of closed structures … they basically stay open most of the time, they just slide up and then, when we’re ready to deploy them, they slide down into place,” he said. say Dr. Burks-Copes said, “Then use ecosystem restoration in the back to naturally provide additional resistance.”

Blackburn said he believes the proposal is a good start, but it won’t be enough, especially because climate change is causing more intense storms.

“Our statistics have not matched the reality of climate change. Thus, the Corps of Engineers considers categories four and five storms to be too rare to enter its standard cost-benefit analysis format. So, this kind of top-level protection, this coastal backbone will protect us from a Category 1 or 2 storm, but it really doesn’t do much against a Category 4 or 5 storm, ”Blackburn explained.

Luke Metzger with Environment Texas explained that climate change causes these storms to intensify more quickly and pour more water.

“When the storms come, you have a much higher chance that the storm can cause deadly flooding, and you also have more evaporation due to the warmer atmosphere. And so there is more water vapor available for the storms. for hurricanes, so when they hit they can drop a lot more rainfall than they have historically had, ”Metzger said.

But Dr. Burks-Copes said the body of engineers must consider the return on investment when setting the plan, and even in a big storm, it will still provide some layer of protection.

“The body has the mandate to look at the whole range. So we looked at very small storms, just kind of rain events, until we came up with something we call the mega-storm, that 10,000-year-old event. And in all of these cases, the features we propose reduce the risks significantly, “he explained,” even in the event of a severe storm, it may not reduce the entire risk, but it does a great job of reducing that risk. ” .

Even if the plan is approved, Blackburn said we need to drive the urgency of climate change to jeans in the 20-year period that will need to be built.

“We need to do a much better job of informing the public about the risk of climate change in these storms. In Texas, we don’t do a good job talking about climate change,” Blackburn said.

Metzger added that jeans need to start reducing pollution and consider smarter planning for our communities.

“Nature-based infrastructure, installing things like rain gardens and green rooftops and artificial wetlands, you know, are things we can do quickly and economically,” Metzger said. “And they won’t solve the whole problem, but they can definitely have a big impact in helping prevent some of the worst flooding cases.”

Credit – https://www.kxan.com/news/texas/whats-in-the-29b-proposal-to-build-a-texas-coastal-spine-to-protect-our-coast-from-future-hurricanes/