Texas Land Commissioner George P. Bush called Thursday for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to go back to the drawing board on some parts of its plan for a coastal barrier.
Bush called a proposed ring levee around Galveston a “non-starter.” He said a proposed seagate at Bolivar Roads, between Galveston Island and Bolivar Peninsula, must not harm the ecology of the Gulf of Mexico or Galveston Bay and should not affect private properties on Bolivar Peninsula or Galveston Island.
“I believe we can strike a balance between protecting lives, jobs, environment and maintaining the lifestyle that makes Bolivar and Galveston so unique,” Bush said.
Bush made the announcement during a meeting with reporters and local officials in Galveston on Thursday.
He also reiterated calls to the corps he made earlier in the week for an extended comment period time during which the public can offer opinions about the project. The public comment period on the corps’ tentatively selected plan is scheduled to end Jan. 9.
After that comment period ends, Bush said the corps should add a second public comment period so the public can see how the corps had “digested” the public feedback it had received during the first public comment period.
A corps spokesman confirmed Thursday that the agency has received Bush’s requests, and was considering them. No decisions had been made as of Thursday afternoon.
Bush said he believed he had at least a verbal commitment to extend the current comment period.
“We believe that they will and that they will open up the process for a few more meetings, we don’t know how many,” he said. He expected an answer in coming weeks, he said.
The call for adjustments to the plan came after the corps completed seven public hearings on the coastal barrier. Hearings in Galveston and on Bolivar Peninsula showed that people in the areas have deep reservations about the plan, Bush said.
“The consensus has been pretty clear on this issue,” he said.
As Bush sat down in a conference room at the Galveston Regional Chamber of Commerce offices, he was also presented with a copy of a full-page advertisement published in Thursday’s edition of The Daily News.
The chamber ad denounced the idea of a ring levee around parts of Galveston Island and supported placing a barrier on the Gulf dune line, rather than along and mostly north of FM 3005.
The corps released its tentatively selected plan for a coastal barrier Oct. 26. The plan proposes 70 miles of levees and seawalls along Galveston Island, Bolivar Peninsula and the west side Galveston Bay, as well as a seagate across the entrance of the Houston Ship Channel.
The system is meant to protect cities around Galveston Bay from storm surge damage like Hurricane Ike caused in 2008.
The plan would cost between $23 billion and $32 billion, according to the corps.
It remains to be seen how much the corps can or will respond to Bush’s requests. The General Land Office is the corps’ partner in the coastal Texas study and contributed 35 percent of the funding for the study. The partnership began in 2015.
The changes that Bush called for, if heeded, could drastically change the scope and cost of the coastal barrier plan.
“There would be environmental and engineering consequences,” he said.
As an alternative to the ring levee, Bush said the corps should study placing a second gate across the San Luis Pass.
Corps officials have said its possible for barriers and levees to be placed along dune lines, rather than along highways, a decision that would potentially protect hundreds of seaside properties in Galveston County.
But other changes, such as a flood gate at the San Luis Pass, have already been dismissed as unfeasible — or contradictory to calls to protect the environment. In the report released on Oct. 26, the corps wrote the benefits from closing the pass at the west end of Galveston Island do not outweigh the negative environmental effects.
The corps report already acknowledges that a seagate system at Bolivar Roads would have massive ecological effects on Galveston Bay, including lowering the level of salinity in the bay. Bush said those effects needed to be better understood.
“We would like to see more details about what a gate of this magnitude would do,” Bush said. “The public has a right to know a little more about what the potential impact would be.”
The corps has insisted that many of the exact details of the plan — including size and placement or barriers — are still being determined.
Bush acknowledged that but said to help avoid confusion, the corps should label all of its future documents with the word “draft” until a final is determined.
Despite the changes to the plan that he asked for, Bush said he hoped the corps could still produce a final report on the barrier by 2021.