Galveston’s newest representative in the state legislature thinks a U.S. Army Corps of Engineers plan for a coastal barrier is bad for Galveston and Bolivar Peninsula.
In a social media message posted on a group created by peninsula residents opposed to the barrier, state representative-elect Mayes Middleton wrote the plan was “very bad for Bolivar and Galveston Island.”
“Rest assured, I will make that known in our legislature,” Middleton said.
In a followup email to The Daily News, Middleton said he was concerned about eminent domain issues critics of the barrier plan have raised. Eminent domain is a legal concept that allows the government to buy private land to make way for public projects.
Some groups have said building a barrier the Army Corps has proposed would require buying hundreds of homes.
The exact size, design and placement of the barrier has yet to be determined, corps officials have said.
The corps plan released Oct. 26 does not include specific plans for buyouts or eminent domain proceedings. A final version of the study is not expected until 2021
Still, some groups have pointed to Army Corps computer files obtained through public records request that appear to show specific locations for a barrier along state Highway 87 on Bolivar Peninsula and FM 3005 on Galveston Island, and for a ring levee around some of Galveston Island.
In some places, the corps’ line appears to pass over homes and businesses, raising fears about government taking of property.
The corps plan should be amended to avoid the “frivolous use of eminent domain,” Middleton said.
“This is totally unacceptable, and USACE must come back to the table with a different plan that does not include a levee running north of 3005 on the West End of Galveston island, a levee north of 87 on Bolivar, and a ring levee around the east end of Galveston,” he said.
Middleton said he would let other community leaders know about his opposition to the plan, including Texas Land Commissioner George P. Bush.
Land office officials said earlier this week that they would not be involved in eminent domain issues if the barrier plan required such measures.
“The Army Corps of Engineers requires their local partners to have eminent domain authority and some sort of taxing ability,” land office spokeswoman Karina Erickson said. “The GLO has neither. This means that the GLO is only the local partner for the study portion of the Coastal Texas study. We will not be involved in the construction phase.”
Middleton’s comments are the first indication of split opinions on the barrier proposal among elected leaders, and comes as the Army Corps is preparing to hold its only public comment meetings about the proposal.
Middleton was elected to office in November.
He replaced state Rep. Wayne Faircloth, who, like many local officials, supported the idea of a coastal barrier for years as a means of protecting not only Galveston Island, but the Houston Ship Channel and other points around Galveston Bay from catastrophic storm surges.
So far, local elected leaders have been at the forefront of efforts to study the barrier.
State Sen. Larry Taylor, of Friendswood, was the chairman of the Joint Interim Committee to Study a Coastal Barrier, a legislative committee formed to gather consensus on a barrier system. Faircloth also was a member of that committee.
Galveston County Judge Mark Henry is chairman of the Gulf Coast Community Protection and Recovery District, a six-county group coastal community leaders that in 2016 produced a report recommending a barrier similar to what the corps recommended.
State and federal leaders also have expressed their support.
U.S. Sens. John Cornyn and Ted Cruz, along with U.S. Rep. Randy Weber, earlier this year introduced bills to speed up the completion of the corps study.
On Friday, Weber called the corps’ recent study a “discussion draft and conversation starter.” Weber hasn’t endorsed a specific version of the plan and encouraged people to share their opinions about the barrier at upcoming public meetings, he said.
“Only through robust, productive conversations will we get the best system to protect our lives and our families,” he said. “I remain committed to listening to locals and working with state and federal agencies to ensure Texans are safe.”
In April 2017, Bush asked President Donald Trump to fund the barrier with $15 billion in federal infrastructure funds.
After Hurricane Harvey, Texas Gov. Greg Abbott also asked the White House for $12 billion to build the barrier. Trump jokingly referred to the request during a rally for Cruz in Houston in October.
There has been no movement so far to fund the barrier before the corps study is complete. A final plan for the barrier won’t be published until 2021, corps officials said. After that, the plan would still need to be funded by Congress. If approved, the barrier would take between 10 years and 15 years to construct.
The Army Corps will hold public hearings about the coastal barrier plan in Galveston on Dec. 12 and on Bolivar Peninsula on Dec. 15.
The 86th Texas Legislative session begins on Jan. 8.