Concerns about environmental and neighborhood integrity garnered applause from island residents who gathered at a Galveston City Council-hosted public meeting about a proposed storm-surge barrier Thursday night at city hall.
People at the meeting worried the plan would harm wildlife, drive down property values and mar the natural state of the island coastline.
“There was no one in the neighborhood that was in favor of the Ike Dike,” Bob Dolgen, president of Sandhill Shores Property Owners Association, said. “They bought their homes for the natural beauty.”
Some people don’t want a costal spine at all, but most who spoke insist the barrier needed to run along the coast, rather than cutting through neighborhoods.
People know living on the Gulf Coast is dangerous, but do anyway because they love the coastal ecology, residents said.
The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers’ plan, revealed in October, proposes a barrier along the island from Bolivar Roads to the San Luis Pass, a ring levee around much of the island and increasing the height of the seawall.
The corps hosted its own public meeting in December that attracted hundreds of people.
Fewer than 100 people attended the meeting Thursday and repeated concerns about cost, effectiveness, tourism impact and ecological integrity.
Though several people objected to a ring levee system as unnecessary and disruptive, it could be the most important component of the project, resident Carol Hollaway said.
“Advocating for bay surge protection should be the foremost reason the city is involved in this study at all,” Hollaway said.
While there’s many problems with the corps’ proposal, a ring levee could be constructed and start protecting Galveston much faster than a coastal barrier, Susan Fennewald said.
“The ring levee could move forward more quickly and easily and provide most of the protection needed,” Fennewald said.
But the current plan will destroy the integrity of Galveston’s nature, residents insisted, a comment attendees cheered each time it was repeated.
Coastal barrier planners and the corps are aware of people’s concerns with the process, said Bill Merrell, the Texas A&M University at Galveston marine scientist who originated the coastal spine idea.
“It’s going to be very frustrating and confusing to the citizens,” said Merrell, who also has objected to details of the corps’ plan.
The meeting was scheduled in early January to give the city council time to form an opinion in advance of the original Jan. 9 public comment deadline.
The Texas General Land Office, a partner on the study, confirmed Wednesday the comment period will be extended another 30 days, to Feb. 9, but the city council hasn’t received confirmation of that, Mayor Jim Yarbrough said.
“If we get an official notification that the deadline has been extended, that will change our timeline,” Yarbrough said.
A partial shutdown of the federal government has complicated efforts to extend the deadline, a land office spokesman said Thursday night.
The city council is scheduled to approve its official comment on the corps’ plan during a special workshop Wednesday, but council members said they could use the extra time to get more information.
“The longer we go, the more questions I feel like we have,” District 3 Councilman David Collins said.
In the previously written draft statement, the city council also voiced concerns about cost and environmental impact. The council advised the corps to reevaluate sand-based, natural looking barriers along the beach and opposed a ring levee on the East End, according to the draft statement.
The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers expects to release a final plan in 2021, but funding the project — estimated at between $23 billion and $32 billion for projects along much of the Texas Coast, will remain up to the U.S. Congress.