Public hearings about a massive coastal storm-surge barrier proposed for the Galveston area are scheduled to start in November, according to the Army Corps of Engineers.
Corps officials said they were finalizing plans for what a coastal spine in Galveston area would look like and groups involved in the corps process said they expect the chosen design to be a barrier along the coast, rather than inland.
The corps is completing the Coastal Texas Study, a multi-million dollar project that includes developing plans for a coastal barrier meant to protect some areas around Galveston Bay from storm surge flooding such as caused by Hurricane Ike in 2008.
The corps has not yet revealed what that barrier should look like. In May, the agency released four drawings of potential alternatives for the barrier project.
The alternatives vary widely from a barrier that runs the length of Galveston Island and the Bolivar Peninsula, with gates across the mouth of the Galveston Ship Channel, to a system of levees that would be built along the west side of Galveston Bay.
In coming months, the corps will choose one of the four alternatives as its preferred design, said Sharon Tirpak, deputy chief of project management for the Army Corps of Engineer’s Galveston District.
Tirpak would not say which of the four alternatives was the most likely to be recommended. But for nearly 10 years, the most consistent and loud local support has been for a barrier and gate system that runs along the coast.
A recommendation of one of the alternatives other than a barrier along the coast would be surprising, said Bob Mitchell, the president of the Bay Area Houston Economic Partnership.
“I’m confident that’s going to be the choice,” Mitchell said. “That’s based on conversations and based on common sense.”
The partnership has been among the leading advocates for the coastal barrier. It has recruited local governments to pass resolutions in favor of the concept, and produced slick movies arguing for the concept.
Environmental advocates also have heard the corps is leaning toward the coastal alternative, said Bob Stokes, president of the Galveston Bay Foundation. If that’s proposed, the foundation will have concerns, Stokes said.
“Our biggest concern still revolves around the proposed floodgates between Galveston and Bolivar,” he said. “The corps has said very little about the details on the proposed gates. Restricting flow will slow down circulation in the bay. Slowing circulation will mean the bay flushes less frequently, which could lead to more algal blooms and poor water quality.”
Stokes expected the corps would explain how a coastal gate might affect fish, shrimp and crabs when it reveals its preferred design in October, he said.
After that plan is revealed, the corps plans to give people about a month to analyze the proposal before starting public hearings, Tirpak said.
Even after the public hearings are completed, the corps’ final report on the Coastal Texas Plan isn’t scheduled to be completed until 2021.
After the plan is completed, the barrier would still needed to be funded. Estimates for the coastal barrier have placed its cost anywhere from $6 billion to $15 billion.