GALVESTON

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.

John Wayne Ferguson: 409-683-5226; john.ferguson@galvnews.com or on Twitter @johnwferguson.

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(17) comments

Gary Scoggin

I’m all for the thorough study, including, as Rep elect Middleton points out, the imminent domain issues. But until I know more about it, I can’t make a judgement one way or another. But going forward, we need to make sure everyone is aware that this protects only against the Ike flooding scenario and not the Harvey one. I’m very interested in the cost/benefit/probability analysis which would call for massive expenditures on one versus the other.

Rusty Schroeder

I knew there was a reason I voted for Mayes, no more studies and no more Ike Dike or Coastal Spine. Call it the Dream Catcher for all I care, just quit spending money on it and get to what matters in this county. Getting water off the land, not trapping it behind some barrier.

Ray Taft

So one day it the not too distant future, the government comes knocking on your door and tells you, ‘Hello, we’re from the government and we’re here to help someone else because we need your property!’

Because according to the present plan, families who struggled to restore their homes after Harvey flooded them because of drainage that could not keep up with the rainfall, could have them taken away by the government. The same government that paid your flood insurance claim, loaned you money (SBA) or gave you grant money to restore your home, now takes it away from you in order to save not-your-home from potentially flooding during a future storm surge. Assuming of course, that the same government has solved the drainage problems!

Apparently, Middleton saying that the current barrier plan is bad, is spot on. Hopefully, other elected officials will get on board with Middleton.

David Schuler

... And seventeen years from now, when the next massive storm devastates the entire area with truly catastrophic coastal flooding, everyone will bemoan the indecision and discord that killed the coastal barrier. At least the (many) survivors of the 1915 Galveston hurricane didn't have to complain about such nonsense.

Paula Flinn

My Granfsther took his two little girls, my mother, 5 years old and my aunt, 3, to the Panama Hotel in downtown Galveston to ride out the 1915 Hurricane. The next morning they looked out the window on the second floor, at the water with a rainbow oil sheen on it from the Railroad tracks, and my aunt said, “ Oh, Daddy, look at all that water! Let’s go swimming!”
It doesn’t make sense to be against a barrier wall that will save lives on Bolivar and Galveston Islands. What kind of representative for us would not represent the southern part of Galveston County where the people here desperately want protection from future hurricanes, like Ike, with strong storm surges?

Rusty Schroeder

Quit dreaming, wouldn't be finished in 17 yrs. is your first mis-conception.

Matt Pace

The Coastal Barrier would trap thousands of homes and businesses between the new levee and the gulf beachfront. It would be a disaster. The best option is the Rice University SSPEED plan known as the Galveston Bay Park plan:
http://docs.wixstatic.com/ugd/d29356_5cde1ed3665a42d78ed7e4ac2b3bfea5.pdf

David Schuler

Nice graphics, except that plan proposes the raising of 3005 and Hwy 87, both of which would 'trap homes and businesses between the new levee and gulf beachfront'. There is no good answer. Levee seaward of the beach, all the beachfront homeowners would complain bitterly about losing their beach view; levee on the bay side destroys wetlands and marshes; levee down the middle is the best compromise. But perfection is the enemy of the good enough.

Paul Hyatt

Until the bayous, diversionary canals are ALL cleaned out so that water can flow freely spending money on the Ike Dike or what ever you call it, is just plan silly.... BTW what about ALL of the homes that will be in front of the dike? Is that fair to them to be taxed to death for this silly scheme and then not get the so called protection from it? Eminent domain can be a good thing but it has been used wrongly over the years. What many who support this silly notion of a dike do not understand is that the people who claim to love the planet will tie this plan or any other plan up in court and it will end up costing not the original 3 billion, not the now 30 billion, but it will be upwards of over 100 billion to get it partially completed and then it will be stopped because of some critter that they never knew about they find.... Clean the bayous and the diversionary canals that would be a huge help and worth the money spent....

David Schuler

I love the logic of some people. Clean out the bayous and canals so that hurricane-driven flood waters can reach inland communities that much faster? This article is about storm surge protection ("Ike"), not rain-driven flooding ("Harvey"). Gosh.

Rusty Schroeder

Exactly, and Ike was 10 years ago, so they have 7 years to get it done. What you want to bet they don't get it done? Some people know that severe hurricanes are few and far between, yet coastal flooding is a recurring problem. I'd rather know that I am going to drain properly every time it rains and prepare accordingly for a hurricane. Gosh.

Gary Miller

Getting the Harvey water out must be as important as keeping the IKE water out. Actually since Harvey did more damage than Ike getting the water out might be most important. Some canals like the Highland Bayou Canal with a few big pumps in the correct places could do more and cost less than the Ike Dike.

Paula Flinn

The Harvey water was mostly rain and then Houston letting the Aldine Dam water out on the West Side. I thought that was Harris County's problem.
We elected a Representative from Galveston County to represent us. US includes the southern part of Galveston County, people who want some kind of barrier against future storm surges.
In the last 50 years (1963-2012) the sea level has risen in Galveston, Texas, 12.5 inches. Our young Representative has no plan or foresight for helping the coastal communities. ucsusa.org

Allison Buchtien

Middleton is not from Galveston County. He's from Chambers County.

Jose' Boix

Maybe it is time to review the original proposal: https://today.tamu.edu/2012/10/09/the-ike-dike-a-solution-for-saving-lives-and-preventing-storm-damage/

Dr. Bill Merrell, TAMU to me proposed the original design and concept noted to be "environmentally friendly, socially relevant efforts to use the proven technologies of the Ike Dike concept to prevent major storm surges." Just my thoughts.

Steve Fouga

I can guarantee, without even looking at the Corps document, that any levee from High Island to SLP will require the buyout of private property. Likewise, any ring levee around Galveston's East End, Midtown, and Downtown. It's unavoidable, and Mr. Middleton must not have been paying attention during the years of discussion about the Ike Dike, or maybe this is just the first time he chose to comment.

The use of eminent domain doesn't necessarily mean it's a bad plan, but it does mean it will be difficult. The Ike Dike will be difficult legally, technically, environmentally, and fiscally. Maybe in other ways too. That's why we will eventually end up with a series of levees, gates, and channels that are cheaper, and simultaneously ease the mitigation flooding from both storm surge and freshwater runoff -- rather than a 75-mile-long behemoth that completely changes the character of the area.

Jeff Patterson

I really hope that as the discussion on this continues that people keep in mind that the sea levels, and hence the landscape....are going to look much different in the future that then do now. Pick your favorite number, but see levels are predicted to rise somewhere on the order 3+ feet before the end of the century There are no easy, simple, or pain free solutions here.... and mother nature is a much more certain and powerful force then eminent domain or local politics. We need leaders that can rise above politics and help elevate the discussions to focus on the big picture and the longer term issues and solutions.

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