The Congressional budget deal Congress approved last week includes $3.2 billion to start construction of a coastal spine between Galveston Bay and Sabine Pass, Texas Gov. Greg Abbott’s office confirmed Tuesday.
The money would be the first funding specifically allocated for construction of a massive hurricane protection system proposed for the Texas coast after Hurricane Ike in 2008.
Abbott mentioned the project briefly during a news conference Tuesday in Houston that mostly focused on assistance coming to Texas cities and residents harmed by Hurricane Harvey.
But Abbott also described how Texas would benefit from an $89 billion disaster recovery package Congress approved and President Donald Trump signed last week.
The package divides funding for disaster recovery in Texas, Florida, California and Puerto Rico.
In Texas, the money would be used to “begin the coastal spine, including funding to construct the Sabine Pass to Galveston Bay hurricane protection project,” Abbott said.
Abbott did not offer more specific details about the project during his remarks. But after the news conference, a spokesman said $3.2 billion had been allocated to a coastal spine project.
The estimated cost of the entire coastal spine is about $12 billion. Although different versions of the spine exist, some aspects are consistent among them, including construction of a barrier along the coasts of Galveston Island and the Bolivar Peninsula, and a massive sea gate somewhere across the Houston Ship Channel.
Abbott’s spokesman did not immediately answer questions about what exactly the $3.2 billion would be used to accomplish.
Galveston County Judge Mark Henry, who was at the Tuesday news conference, said he was surprised by Abbott’s announcement.
“This is the day we’ve been looking for,” Henry said. “Where someone has said the money is here.”
Henry said his understanding was the money would pay the final costs of an engineering study for the project, and to start construction of nonmechanical aspects of the barrier.
The announcement is a long time coming for local leaders, who have been pushing for a barrier system since Hurricane Ike in 2008.
The first version of the barrier is popularly known as the Ike Dike and was developed by researchers at Texas A&M University at Galveston. The term coastal spine is used by officials when talking about the project more generally, such as in a study underway by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers that is exploring various coastal protection systems.
The barrier would be designed to stop the kind of storm surge that occurred during Ike, when hurricane force winds pushed water from the Gulf of Mexico into Galveston Bay and flooded coastal areas. It is not meant to protect against the kind of flooding rain caused by Hurricane Harvey.
Still, the idea of funding a coastal spine has gained popularity in recent months, particularly because of computer models that show an Ike-like storm could cause flooding worse than Harvey along areas near the Houston Ship Channel.