A six-county board has recommended that Texas pursue a plan to build a 55.6 mile system of levees and gates in Galveston County to protect the greater Houston area from storm surge caused by hurricanes.
The Gulf Coast Community Protection and Recovery District released the third phase of its Storm Surge Suppression Study on Wednesday evening, completing more than two years of analysis about how the state should protect itself from storm surge like what devastated Galveston and other areas during Hurricane Ike.
“The recommendations put forward in this report establish a framework for a plan and serve as a call to action for local, state and federally elected officials to become advocates for coastal protection,” the district wrote in its executive summary. “The time has come to move beyond concepts and feasibility studies and begin preliminary engineering design and construction of the system.”
The report includes recommendations on how to protect areas of Jefferson, Orange, Chambers, Harris, Galveston and Brazoria Counties.
For the Galveston area, the report recommends building a coastal spine — described as a “continuous regional barrier system” running parallel to state Highways 87 and FM 3005 — from High Island on the Bolivar Peninsula to the San Luis Pass on the far West End of Galveston Island.
The spine would include a large navigation gate across Bolivar Roads, the body of water between Galveston Island and Bolivar Peninsula.
The spine is similar to the concept of the Ike Dike proposed by researchers at Texas A&M University at Galveston, although it omits a second gate that had been proposed across San Luis Pass.
The district also recommended that a 12- to 15-foot high ring levee be built around the east side of Galveston Island and that a navigation gate be built at Clear Lake Shores, just north of Kemah.
The recommendation takes parts of two alternatives that had been released as possible recommendations earlier this year. It does not include a proposal to build a levee along state Highway 146, which drew objections from some county residents who could have been left outside the wall.
The construction cost of the recommendations are estimated to be $5.8 billion, with another $29.1 million of annual operation and maintenance costs. That estimate does not include the costs of the Galveston ring levee and Clear Lake gate, which need more research, said Chris Sallese, the coastal programs manager at Dannenbaum Engineering, which authored the report.
Kemah Mayor Carl Joiner said he was excited by the release of the latest study.
“We’re definitely for the coastal spine,” Joiner said. “We need to get together with other communities and start building support now. No more reports.”
With the recommendations now in, the district said more action needed to be taken before design and construction could begin.
An environmental study on the effect the gate and barrier system will have to be conducted on Galveston Bay and estuary systems.
The district also recommended the state continue seeking ways to reduce costs, including possibly looking at alternative designs for a gate at Bolivar Roads.
Still, the most important parts of the report were complete and Texas coastal leaders now possess an “actionable” plan to present to state and federal leaders for funding, Sallese said.
“There’s enough data here where you could move forward to preliminary engineering and design right now,” Sallese said. “The big thing about the next phase is optimization of the system and going back and looking at some of the environmental aspects.”
That’s the message local advocates for storm surge protection took from the release of the report.
“This report will take all of the excuses away from not doing something,” said Bob Mitchell, the president of the Bay Area Houston Economic Partnership. “This definitely will trigger state and federal action.”