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.

John Wayne Ferguson: 409-683-5226; or on Twitter @johnwferguson.

Senior Reporter

(15) comments

PD Hyatt

If that coastal spine would have been built before Harvey Galveston County would have been forced under water even worse than we were.... I makes no sense to build ditches that flow to bayous when NO ONE is doing a dang thing about cleaning and or widening the bayous for all of the water that is being directing to them. IMHO the drainage control group here in Galveston country are either totally inept and have no clue about what to do and how to control all of this water that used to stand around before we started all of this building.... Which begs the question why aren't they making these new neighborhoods to build retention ponds that will hold most of these rain storms. What is amazing is that the county is going to allow Santa Fe to send more water down our way to Highland bayou were we need help getting all of this water out to the bay..... Building the spine IMHO will only stop the water that we need to get out of here....

Gary Miller

PD Hyatt. Storm surge hasn't caused as much damage as rain storm flooding. I agree if any of the proposed "Ike Dike" plans had been completed before Harvey we would still be trying to drain 400,000 properties. Anything that can stop storm surge entering can also stop rain flood exiting.

Steve Fouga

I wonder what the $3.2B will be spent on, exactly. A smart idea would be to design and build a part of the whole levee/gate system that would be essentially self-contained, and wouldn't cause damage to some other area if hit by a surge while under construction, and would still be effective if the rest of the system were canceled or delayed.

Such a portion could be the the Galveston Ring Levee, which is included in each of the Corps's competing projects. If I were Galveston City and County govt, I would push hard for this outcome.

Scott Jones

The $3.2B is for levee work in Jefferson and Brazoria counties only...

John Nilsson

This is great news for Galveston Island, Galveston Bay and all the way up to Sabine Pass.

Ron Shelby

Wonder how this will impact home values on the island.

Robert Braeking

(Tongue in cheek comment) The coastal 'spine' makes a lot of sense. Exclude the shrimp spawn from entering the bay system. That way we can eliminate all the commercial fishing in both the bays and coastal areas of Texas. Without shrimp the red drum and speckled trout will lose their food source and the bays will become devoid of all marine life and become giant cesspools for the population to enjoy while wearing their PPE.

Randy Chapman

None of what you speak is going to happen. The gate would remain open, except in times of possible flooding from a hurricane surge. Tidal flow would be largely unaffected.

Robert Braeking

Perhaps the main gate would remain open but the hundreds of natural inlets would be sealed off.......unless they are planning to build a gate for each one, which I doubt. What would happen to San Luis Pass? Shrimp have to have access to the grass beds such as are being torn out by developers.

Scott Jones

You are right that the gates would be open almost all the time, but that doesn't tell the whole story. Actually, the structures needed to house the navigation gates and environmental lift gates would effectively reduce the width of Bolivar Roads by about half, which would reduce tidal volume and tidal ranges (heights), definitely increase current speeds, possibly increase scouring at the periphery of the Bay (which could harm wetlands and increase erosion), possibly increase sedimentation in the middle of the Bay (which could bury oysters in sediment), decrease salinity which harms some living species, increase residence time of pollutants such as PCBs and dioxins, and potentially kill larval fish, shrimp and crabs trying to make their way back into the Bay from the Gulf, as well as potentially affect movement of adult fish, shellfish, turtles and dolphins in and out of the Bay. So these gates could have negative effects on not only ecology, but also commercial and recreational fishing. There have been effects in the Eastern Scheldt in The Netherlands where environmental lift gates are located, including the loss of 60% of its salt marshes (but other variables did come into play). Look up 1990studies by DeRonde. As each estuary in the world is unique, complete environmental studies should be completed before we move forward on construction. The real kicker that while there are studies on the physical and chemical effects, there is very little known about impacts on larval fish, shellfish and crab. If we do build this, it needs to be with new, cutting edge technology (such as gates that come off the bottom) but those are more expensive and haven't been tested fully. Lots of unknowns right now... Potential to really harm the Bay.

Gary Miller

If the coastal spine is built it will be important for the people controlling the gates know what to do and when to do it. Harvey flooding in TC was caused mostly by having the flood gate closed when the water level in the lake was higher than the water level in the bay. The ability to pump rain out of Moses lake is needed.
Miss management of Ike Dike gates could flood three counties.

Susan Fennewald

The coastal spine (with gates) is NOT a cost effective idea. We want the most bang for our buck. We want to spend tax money wisely. Let the engineers, not the politicians, decide what project offers the best defense to storms.

Robert Braeking

One need only look at the clear lake flood gates to see the effects of government engineers on flood control.....or lack thereof. Before Hwy 146 was modified, when there was a draw bridge, heavy rain events flooded the roadway. It was effectively a mile-long spillway. Now the road is a dam holding back clear lake and the 4 puny little flood gates that were built are not only on the wrong side of the new road bed but way inadequate. Clear Lake/Clear creek could not drain all the way back to Friendswood and beyond. During Harvey the dam held and all the water needed to go out through the main channel.

Scott Jones

The $3.2B is for levee work in Jefferson and Brazoria counties only. The Corps' Sabine Pass to Galveston project is not named well as it excluded studies of storm surge protection along Bolivar Peninsula, Galveston Island or Follets Island. It is referred to as the "Bookend" project.

Jim Forsythe

Scott, have they changed from the floating gates to lift gates
Also, is this still part of the plan?
"In earlier design it has been proposed to build a floating barge gate in the navigational section and caissons with lifting gates in the environmental section".

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