Three environmental groups say documents obtained through an open records request to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers reveal the agency’s true intentions for the placement of a storm-surge barrier along the Texas coast.

The records, mapping shapefiles used to draw lines on graphics modeling the coastal barrier, show a barrier that would run down local highways and potentially leave hundreds of homes between the barrier and the Gulf of Mexico.

The groups are urging area residents to use the maps to find their own addresses, and use that information to develop public comments about the barrier plan to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.

But an Army Corps official in charge of the coastal barrier study said the files don’t represent the corps’ final plans and that the technical design of the barrier is only about 10 percent complete.

The three environmental groups — the Galveston Bay Foundation, Bayou City Waterkeeper and the Turtle Island Restoration Network — held an informational meeting at Galveston’s Rosenberg Library last Wednesday evening. The meeting focused largely on the groups’ concern about the ecological effects the barrier would have on Galveston Bay, and on how people with similar concerns can submit public comments to the Texas General Land Office.

But the meeting also included a presentation of what the groups say is the clearest picture available of where the corps would build levees and seawalls along Bolivar Peninsula and Galveston Island.

The groups filed a public information request for shapefiles the Army Corps used to draw maps showing barrier concepts. Those maps have been widely shared, but only in ways that show the barriers from high above, they said.

A closer inspection of the files showed the corps drew its lines with some degree of intention, the groups said. The shapefiles show a barrier built along state Highway 87 on Bolivar Peninsula and along FM 3005 on Galveston Island.

“This is going to be the footprint,” said Joanie Steinhaus, the Gulf Program Director for the Turtle Island Restoration Network. “This is their selected project.”

In that scenario, thousands of homes in both places would be left outside the barrier — most of them on the south sides of the highways.

Hundreds of other properties would be in the direct path of the wall, and could be targeted for eminent domain, the groups said.

“Our argument is, based on what we’ve seen with the environmental impact and the feasibility study, as well as through conversations with them, that this is probably a pretty close, if not exact alignment of what they are going to be proposing in their final study,” said Jordan Macha, executive director of Bayou City Waterkeeper, which states its mission is to protect and restore the integrity of bayous, rivers, streams and bays through advocacy and education.

Specifics about the alignment of the barrier cannot be found in the report released on Oct. 26 by the corps. While the report describes the alignment generally, officials said that a final alignment wouldn’t be decided until the report is finalized in 2021.

But the next two months are the only time in the development of that final study during which people will be able to submit their thoughts on the proposal, said Kelly Burks-Copes, the project director for the corps’ coastal barrier study.

The shapefiles don’t represent a final plan for barrier placement, and the corps’ recommendation could change to move the barrier nearer to the Gulf of Mexico, or closer to Galveston Bay, as economic and environmental impact studies continue, she said.

“This is an evolving process, we’re only two and half years in and we have two to go,” Burks-Copes said. “We’re only at 10 percent design at this point.”

The study was still in its first phase: where the corps was trying to decide whether a barrier at the coast or a barrier along the rim of Galveston Bay was more effective, Burks-Copes said. The corps decided to focus on the coastal barrier and is now studying what the best placement on the island and the peninsula would be, Burks-Copes said.

“That line is very conceptual,” Burks-Copes said. “It could very well move to the front of the island. There’s several things that could happen and we’re not saying anything is going to happen yet.”

Still, people who are concerned about what the shapefiles show should say so in their public comments, she said

For the environmental groups, alignment and the effect on personal property is just one of the issues being raised as an objection to the coastal barrier project, said Scott Jones, the director of advocacy for the Galveston Bay Foundation

The groups are calling for more environmental analyses of the issue, to answer questions about how the corps’ proposal and other alternatives could affect Galveston Bay and its fisheries, Jones said.

The corps will host a public meeting about the coastal barrier plan in Galveston from 5:30 p.m. to 9 p.m. on Dec. 12 at the Galveston Island Convention Center, 5600 Seawall Blvd. People can submit written and verbal comments about the barrier plan at the meeting.

John Wayne Ferguson: 409-683-5226; or on Twitter @johnwferguson.


Senior Reporter

(7) comments

Susan Fennewald

Though the Corps won't commit to a location - for the sake of all those behind the barrier,it should NOT be in an erosion zone. It should be far enough from the water that erosion won't be an issue. The obvious place for it is under 3005 on Galveston and under 87 on Bolivar.

The whole project will cost a TREMENDOUS amount for maintenance even without shoreline erosion to take into account. But why build a $50billion project and then leave a vulnerable link in the chain along the waterfront where the tide will constantly work on it. Even worse than a regular storm surge, is one where a gap has formed in a barrier and the water rushes through one spot. Galveston has to do a lot of cleanup after a washover like Ike caused, but flow through a gap in the barrier would cause much more damage.

Rusty Schroeder

Susan, might as well leave that maintenance worry to the next few generations, as I doubt either of us will see this project to completion if ever started. I for 1 am not going to worry where they finally depend on building it, hopefully I will be far from here when construction commences.

Jessica Gorman

The "leave the worry to future generations" attitude is exactly why were are in some of the messes that we are in. Why don't we, instead, look at public projects in a way that will protect the island best FOR future generations? It may be a coastal spine or no coastal spine. But our attitude towards future island residents matters.

Rusty Schroeder

Jessica if you have never read any of my comments on this subject, I am 100% against it. Study after study and millions of dollars spent on them still have no concrete way of funding or path for their existence. Once there is only 1 plan, get ready for the eminent domain and wetland's preservation lawsuits, more money. Not to mention the East Coast now wants a barrier system, so more hands in the jar of $$. FYI, this paper is called The Galveston County Daily News, it covers the county not just Galveston. So my attitude falls toward future county resident matters, not just island resident matters. I live in Santa Fe, for my community Dickinson Bayou cleanout as well as Cloud Bayou expansion is a way more pressing issue than anything that takes place on the island. That's my attitude.

Steve Fouga

Galveston and Bolivar residents should understand that the "coastal spine" is not intended to protect beach properties. It takes the billions - trillions? - of dollars of properties and infrastructure -- petrochemicals, medical facilities, the cities of Houston, Pasadena, Baytown, etc. -- to warrant building a $30B+ surge protection system.

Susan is absolutely right that the spine should run under FM 3005 and SH 87. Besides being inland of the erosion zone, the highways themselves -- evacuation routes -- are then protected from flooding from both the Gulf and Bay sides.

I've long wondered why beachfront homeowners would want the barrier in front of their homes anyway. They've already accepted the risk of storm damage for the privilege of living on a beach. Now the want to give up the beach? Now they want to lose their view? Now they want to live on the backside of a hill? 🤔🤔🤔🤔🤔

Don Schlessinger

Just think of the $$ TWIA and FEMA will save.

Azure Bevington

The beach front homeowners do not want the barrier in front of their homes either. They do not want the barrier on Bolivar or Galveston Island AT ALL. Believe me I am one of them and I have spoken to hundreds of them. The entire plan is a farce, it does not provide the surge protection that it was purported to and it will destroy the ecological health of the Galveston Bay and all those who enjoy it and rely on it.

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