There’s been a lot of work done to prepare for building a coastal barrier system. Texas A&M University at Galveston has put resources in moving this project forward. The Bay Area Houston Economic Partnership and Texas Land Commissioner George P. Bush have also played important roles.

Three years ago this month, we wrote a column making the case for a coastal barrier spine and how to get the federal government to fund it (“Making the Coastal Barrier System Happen,” Daily News, Aug. 11, 2014). We noted that if Hurricane Ike had hit a little farther to the west it would have taken offline at least a third of our nation’s refining capacity, maybe closer to half, causing a nationwide crisis. Protecting the industrial infrastructure located on the Houston Ship Channel has national economic and national security implications.

Since the ship channel is a “navigable waterway” the responsibility for funding and building an “Ike Dike” falls within federal jurisdiction — according to the U.S. Constitution. That means it’s not the responsibility of state and local jurisdictions.

Over the past months we have read stories about Congressional delegations going to Holland to see how the flood gates will be built. We’ve seen reports on photo-ops related to building an “Ike Dike.” Our observation is that delegations and photo-ops for local dignitaries do little to help reach a positive legislative outcome; nor does it move the ball down the legislative playing field.

So, at the risk of repeating ourselves from August 2014, here’s the approach we suggest. Find a congressman to introduce a bill that mandates:

• The Army Corps of Engineers will build a coastal surge protection barrier from High Island on the east; beyond San Luis Pass on the west,

• The Corps build it in a set period of time, and $15 billion be authorized to fund the project.

This approach requires having a person in Congress who will champion the effort; someone who can forge relationships and work across party lines to move the measure forward to final passage.

We’ve talked with some people at the Army Corps of Engineers and asked them how this approach might impact them. We were told, “As long as the money is provided it shouldn’t be a problem. It was done in New Orleans in five years!”

Now, compare our approach to what actually happened. Last year language was placed in the WINN Act that says: “Section 1205 Texas Coastal Area: In carrying out the comprehensive plan authorized by … Public Law 110-114 … the (Army) Secretary shall consider studies; data, and information developed by the Gulf Coast Community Protection and Recovery District to expedite completion of the plan.”

Which approach gets the job done? Section 1205 does little to get the coastal barrier system actually built.

The time for political theater, photo-ops, and legislation that does little is over. We need dedicated congressional leadership that can forge relationships across party lines and convince colleagues this is a national (not a regional) economic and national security issue.

Let’s get it done; before the next hurricane!

Bill Sargent, Mark Mansius and John Gay are writing a series of columns on the timely issues for today. All three ran in the 14th Congressional District primary.

(36) comments

Mike Box

Great idea. Let's build a hard structure so that the "beach front" houses can't see the beach, but that won't matter in 10 or 20 years because the beach will move while the wall will stay in place. The next generation will have 100 miles of wall with no beach in front of it. Doesn't seem like a good idea for a beach town. I'm sure the refineries will love it.

Steve Fouga

The coastal spine is at best a poor idea. Localized, better-thought-out protections would work just as well, be cheaper, could bring funds from more sources, and be less environmentally deleterious. Ditch the coastal spine. But do something.

George Croix

15 billion????
That is unlikely to even cover the litigation fees attached to at least the decade of 'environmental studies' and lawsuits...but it will support the local yacht building and Porsche sales businesses.... [innocent]
Try to imagine the Texas City levee being built 50 years ago with the same level of obstruction and lawsuits that much smaller projects generate now...
There it is.....

Mason Schraufnagel

The spine is a great idea and deserves support at all levels. I view it as an extension of the Seawall shield which has served us well for over a century. When the Seawall was originally discussed, there were naysayers at the time as well, but we proceeded with the massive project and it's paid us back several times over - The Ike Dike will do the same. This is a great time to continue the work started in 1902 and protect our coast for another century.

Steve Fouga

It doesn't have support at my level. Other concepts do, but not the spine. In my opinion it's too grandiose, too impractical, too unnecessary. Ultimately too expensive. If it's chosen, I hope it's done incrementally, starting with the Bolivar Roads gate, protecting the upper channel, protecting the highest value first. Add other parts later, as they become affordable, which I predict will be never. This way I can enjoy the coast for the rest of my life, without enduring a 50-yr, $50B construction project that would eventually ruin Galveston and Bolivar's character.

Mason Schraufnagel

I respect your opinion, of course, but a practical estimate for the project is closer to $15B. It protects more than just the shipping channel by extending the existing Seawall barrier and is clearly the best option of what's been presented. The other plans have some parts that should be included, namely the additional set of gates in the channel, but overall the full spine is the best plan for all who live/work on the coast. Again, similar sentiments as yours were expressed after the 1900 storm but thankfully, our predecessors took extraordinary measures to rebuild Galveston and construct the Seawall we love today. At the Federal level, the price tag is reasonable to protect such a critical area of the country. Hurricane Ike caused nearly $30B in damage and certainly devastated the character of Bolivar and Galveston. Protecting the Texas coast with the spine is one of the most important things we can do as a community and country for the future of the region.

Steve Fouga

"Protecting the Texas coast with the spine is one of the most important things we can do as a community and country for the future of the region."

I agree with the protecting part, just not the spine part. I understand the coastal spine quite well. It's not the best option. It's a brute force option.

Hopefully the Corps will be allowed to finish its study, and we can see some actual engineering data. I've found it's wise to triple the initial estimate of any large federal project as a starting point, until the cost of a real engineering design can be estimated. Once the cost of an engineering design is estimated, I would double it. Double the schedule, too. That's just how it works. I'm thinking at least 25 yrs and not a penny under $30B.

My vote is for a Bolivar Roads gate and a ring levee around Galveston. Of course this opinion comes without an engineering design and estimate too, just like yours. [cool]

Jim Forsythe

The Seawall and the Texas City levee most likely would not prevent flooding behind them, if a cat. 4 or cat. 5 Hurricane
was to strike .
"A category 5 storm landing on the northern end of Galveston is the worst case scenario. With estimated losses of over $50 billion, recovering from a storm of that intensity would take years, possibly decades"
"Alicia was a minimal Cat 3 storm. Storm surge from a Cat 5 hit on Galveston would be about 35 ft. max. as entered the upper reaches of Galveston Bay. New York would never experience that type of storm surge due to the drop off in the continental shelf just off the coast. Storm surge is especially virulent on the Gulf Coast because the continental shelf slopes gently allowing waves to build."
"Reporting in the aftermath of the 1983 Hurricane Alicia, the Corps of Engineers Estimated that $100 million in damage was avoided because of the seawall"
Hurricane Impact Report* for Galveston City Hall, Galveston, Texas  to read the full report. good read.
Category Four Hurricane:
Winds 131-155 mph (114-135 kt or 210-249 km/hr). Storm surge generally 13-18 ft above normal. More extensive curtain wall failures with some complete roof structure failures on small residences. Shrubs, trees, and all signs are blown down. Complete destruction of mobile homes. Extensive damage to doors and windows. Low-lying escape routes may be cut by rising water 3-5 hours before arrival of the center of the hurricane. Major damage to lower floors of structures near the shore. Terrain lower than 10 ft above sea level may be flooded requiring massive evacuation of residential areas as far inland as 6 miles (10 km). 
Category Five Hurricane:
Winds greater than 155 mph (135 kt or 249 km/hr). Storm surge generally greater than 18 ft above normal. Complete roof failure on many residences and industrial buildings. Some complete building failures with small utility buildings blown over or away. All shrubs, trees, and signs blown down. Complete destruction of mobile homes. Severe and extensive window and door damage. Low-lying escape routes are cut by rising water 3-5 hours before arrival of the center of the hurricane. Major damage to lower floors of all structures located less than 15 ft above sea level and within 500 yards of the shoreline. Massive evacuation of residential areas on low ground within 5-10 miles (8-16 km) of the shoreline may be required

George Croix

Jim, these days, 55 years after Carla pounded the area and got the TC levee thinking caps going, long before one complaint could wield enormous power to stop progress in it's tracks, it's not as much a matter of simple naysaying, imo, as it is simple head out of behind awareness of the brutal realities of trying to beat Ma Nature at her own game, a tough job on it's own, and the forces opposed to ANY little thing that might harm a supposedly endangered Something-or-Other or upset Somebody's Sensitivities, so legal recourse must be sought lest either's become so routine it's a cliche'. The fact that the country is broke is worth thinking about, even when in direct conflict with the loss vs gain posed by protecting nationally strategic infrastructure.
Heck, if it was up to me, we'd build a 50 foot high Great Wall of the United States around the whole darn country...with armed guards at all the gates.....might as well wish big when the cost is out of sight anyway....
So, it comes down to, at best, the odds against vs the odds for vs a best guess of consequences either way.
I recall clearly being yet again a Hurricane Duty 'volunteer' and standing on the 3rd floor of the NOB looking out the window into the dark after just having heard a news report declaring that '05 Rita was expected to make a turn away from us to the north/northeast, but if it didn't the 'possible' storm surge coming our way was 'up to 30 feet'...30 FEET'...or, right about where my eye level was....
That's projected...projected...Cat 5 PLUS.
I don't think the issue lifejacket would have helped much... [wink]
The 'coastal spine' would have, had projection become reality, been a toe bump in the way of a monster....
Then, there's always the wind........
These days, in Reality Land, either talk protection of strategic industry and use any available resources for that first, or keep pretending that the real reason so many want a barrier is NOT to protect beach homes on a tourist island with 50 grand population......
imo again....

Susan Fennewald

The coastal spine is a bad idea originally pushed by Galveston's west end beachfront folks who want a big sand dune built in front of their property as part of the "spine". It's ridiculously costly and an environmental nightmare.

Instead - lets push for a ring levee around the core of Galveston.

David Schuler

Based on the comments above, best to build a coastal spine just north of the Intracoastal Waterway from High Island to the Freeport levee. That way the refinery infrastructure is protected and the precious beachfront homes get to remain that way, until they're washed away in the next big one. Oh, and 50 years from now, when this topic is still under consideration, most cars will be electric and the demand for gasoline will have evaporated. So the refineries will be of less importance and whatever chance there was to get federal dollars will have also evaporated. Enjoy the view!

Steve Fouga

I know this was meant to be sarcastic, but it's pretty sound logic. [whistling]

Mason Schraufnagel

The spine concept came out of Texas A&M (not the West End) and protects all folks and businesses along the coast. You have to consider how big Greater Houston will continue to get and the growth of population along the entire coast. A ring levee around downtown Galveston is absurd and accomplishes almost nothing. That's a patch job, at best. The right way to do the project is to create the spine, incorporate additional protection measures within the channel and protect all behind the extended Seawall.

David Schuler

Discarding sarcasm, a coastal spine is the only viable long term solution. And IMO it's Galveston's only hope for survival into the 2100's (other than gambling, but that's another topic). A ring levee could fill up; will further divide Galveston politically between East and West, and would be funded by whom, the East End Historical District Association? Another writer suggested building the coastal barrier in sections - sorry, but basic physics says water will come in unless the barrier is complete. So sad to see such provincial and small-minded thoughts. Nothing we can build will protect the coast from a direct Cat 5 bulls-eye, but like insurance deductibles, a spine barrier will prevent another Cat 2 or Cat 3 or even a Cat 4 from costing billions. Time to think big and do in today's world what the construction of the Seawall was in 1909.

Steve Fouga

David, either you or I have not thought this through. A coastal spine, or any other protection, will of necessity be built in sections. It will be a 25-yr project. Do you envision a giant levee rising an inch at a time, along its whole length? Of course not. Rights of way will be purchased, legal battles will be fought, properties condemned, environmental studies completed, etc., at different times along the 75-mile length. The Corps of Engineers, with input from local authorities, will decide which pieces of the project to work on first.

If I were deciding, I would protect the highest-value properties and infrastructure first. Without actually seeing the numbers, I bet that's Houston, La Porte, Baytown, and the rest of the Bay north of Bolivar Roads. Therefore I would at least try to start work on the Bolivar Roads gate first.

Your notion of water coming in unless the whole thing is complete is of course correct. To me, that supports the argument for several smaller projects that could be completed quicker than one all-encompassing spine. And let's face it, some places are more valuable than others, and thus more worthy of protection.

David, why would a ring levee fill up, any more than the area behind a spine would? Like you say, it's just a matter of physics. Either one, built correctly, would work just as well.

As for a ring levee dividing Galveston politically, you're probably right. But what will happen when the Corps's study shows that the best place for the spine is BEHIND the beachfront homes, where FM 3005 is now?

George Croix


Yep, if it ever comes to be, it's going to be a multi-hurricane season project, for sure...
Thinking big doesn't change the realities of construction...or, for that matter will be a battle royal just getting the construction started.

George Croix

The TC levee is only about 17 miles long, and was 21 feet high pre-whatever subsidence...and took from '62 to '87 to complete it to what it pretty much is today,
WITHOUT a bunch of obstructive lawsuits and environmental regulations and a beach front property homeowners lobby.
Go ride along Skyline drive and see how wide that area is, and then picture same all along the West End, and then try to believe that there will be only minimal opposition.


Mason Schraufnagel

I can understand your concern about the term and cost of the project but this is why we have the Army Corps of Engineers. This is what they do and are very good at it. They figured it out in New Orleans and got it done. They will do the same here.

Curtiss Brown

It's not about us. It is not about Galveston. It is about the safety of the entire region.
The Galveston Seawall has protected the Island for over a hundred years. It was and is a good idea. But Hurricane Ike showed that there is a greater threat than just the Island. If Ike had moved just a few miles much of the upper bay region and up the Houston Ship Channel would have experienced what we experienced. The Coastal Spine will protect the entire region (and not leave anyone out,) and its construction will be 100% in Galveston County. We can argue among ourselves about the ideas that have already been defeated and shelved among people who get to hear the facts. It is O.K., for Islanders and the people of Bolivar to gripe and moan about the specifics of the project, it will be built here after all. But the Coastal Spine must be built for the good of the entire region.
Even IF the three stooges are for it.

Steve Fouga

Well, Curtiss, you say it MUST be built; I say it WON'T be built. One of us is wrong. I can hardly wait for the results of the Corps study, so we can have opinions about something more concrete.

When imagining a project that shapes the future, it's useful to literally picture how things would be, if the project came to fruition. I, for one, have to do this in order to create perspective.

I admit that if a spine already existed, I would have nothing against it. Sure, I wouldn't be able to see the water from Seawall Blvd, but small price to pay for the increased protection. My flood insurance would be a little lower, if the government acted responsibly - but my flood insurance is a drop in the bucket. If done properly, the levees on FM 3005 and SH 87 would have nice bike trails for me to ride on. There would be nothing objectionable to the levees' appearance, as they would look like any other Texas highway on a hill, except that these would have an ocean view, so that's good. I can't think of anything I would gain personally from the mainland being protected, but of course I can see it would be great for people and businesses on the mainland, and beneficial to national security. A coastal spine would be great, if it already existed.

Again for perspective, it's also useful to envision how to get there from here, and whether I can stand it. Not literally, because I can stand a hell of a lot, but practically, as in "Would I still like to live here?"

To create a coastal spine, Galveston, Bolivar, and the Channel will be construction zones for 25 years, at least. Not construction zones like Stewart Road is now. More like how the Gulf Freeway is now, has been for 50 years, and will be forever. Imagine the beach-building hubbub we just went through, times-ten, for 25 years, maybe closer to 50, because it will be hard to maintain the level of funding needed to finish the project. From High Island to Freeport! Though I'm sure planners will work hard to avoid it, shipping traffic to Houston-Galveston area ports will be disrupted for as long as it takes to build the Bolivar Roads gate. Local taxes will almost certainly be raised, since matching will be likely, and especially if Harris and Brazoria Counties don't chip in.

I'm not sure I could stand it. Of course that's no reason not to do it, but it's one of the reasons I'm against it. There are cheaper, less disruptive solutions. And no matter which is chosen, 120-mph winds might blow my roof off or drop my majestic live oaks onto my house. [scared]

George Croix

I share your admiration for the AC of E.
Given the funding, resources, and an absence of protesting and lawsuits, they can probably build anything that needs building.
But, they cannot work miracles or condense time and space, and if starting tomorrow, it would be a long, long term project...that, imo, is simply the reality, not negativity.
Also, New Orleans is not the same problem that the Gulf would be, nor is it an area dependent on beachfront properties and sunbathing, and the politics were different, to say the very least.
ALL of these issues CAN be overcome...but, not easily, and unlike so many things this country tries or wants to try, simply wishing won't make it so, nor will simply tossing money at it be enough...even if we didn't have to borrow it from China, or our Great Great Grandkids....
A GREAT start to enable minimizing obstructions to the project and maximizing willingness to foot the bills would be for Joe Public to stop listening to the ad- nauseum demonization campaign of refineries and Big Oil, and THINK and recognize that THE #1 item for national strategic importance is the production of fossil based fuels...without them, this country, and ALL in it, would STOP in short order, and that will be the case for, oh, the next 50 to 100 years even IF a viable alternative were developed TOMORROW, just because of the tens of millions or so of things that require them to function, and the massive job to retrofit infrastructure for a new energy source to be readily available.
In other words, we need Big Oil, and would all...all...unless one is a subsistence farmer hiding in the Back 40 and totally...totally... off grid, we need it a LOT more than we need a sandbar with beach houses on it.
People in Montana nowhere near a beach need it...etc.....
Seeing the end result as necessary is step one to getting widespread buy in.

Steve Fouga

More and more, I'm liking David Shuler's idea of building the Ike Dike on the mainland.

Mason Schraufnagel

Suggesting the spine project will take 25 years to build is not realistic and is a misleading argument. Concrete reinforced dunes are not complicated. Other than the gate systems, the project will be relatively quick to build when compared to New Orleans which was done in less than a decade. The Army Corps of Engineers have the ability to complete a project like this with relative ease. It's up to leadership to rally the Federal funding and get this project started and this is a good time to do it with the potential infrastructure spending coming from DC.

George Croix

Why is the suggestion misleading?
A MUCH simpler construction feat, because it crossed no major bodies of open water, and the gates are only a couple of traffic lanes wide, was the TC levee system, and that took from '62 to '87 to get it declared complete, according to the many articles available on the subject, and that without the obstacles facing a similar, or bigger, project today. Not the least of which is that at some time or another ship channel traffic would have to be stopped to install gates. Unless anyone...anyone....thinks installation of a massive gate system could be done in less than a week, and can provide the magic wand to make that happen, then the refineries that depend on ship traffic (pipelines are not enough for the big facilities like old Amoco Oil/BP/Marathon GBR, etc) WILL have to cut to minimum at best or more likely shutdown. ONE of those big 'ol raw crude tanks on the SE side of the biggest refinery in the area holds only about 1 day's crude units throughput, and they are few in number.
Look it up yourself if you don't think so.
I'm all for cheerleading, but eventually it's the realities on the field that the players have to face. The AC of E surely CAN deal with those realities, but they can't eliminate them.

Mason Schraufnagel

I'm more interested in the complicated New Orleans ACoE project that was completed recently rather than a project from 50 years ago. Times and technology have changed and the ACoE worked through the New Orleans project with good pace. It's fine to have your doubts but these logistical hurdles are issues the ACoE deal with every day, all day. The Coastal Spine will not be an engineering challenge for them, however it will take time to construct and will require Federal funding. Ultimately the project will be a source of pride for the region, create jobs, protect and add property value from the coast to Houston.

Steve Fouga

In my opinion, the New Orleans project is not similar at all to the Ike Dike, if I understand both of them correctly. The TX City ring levee, though not as large as the coastal spine, is similar conceptually. Obviously New Orleans has recency going for it, compared to the TX City levee.

I know that the levee portion of the coastal spine is relatively uncomplicated, well within the Corps's capabilities. But simple doesn't mean easy. The scope of the proposed "Ike Dike" is huge. Something I've noticed about Ike Dike supporters is their absolute confidence in the concept, and in the Corps of Engineers. I won't say that confidence is misplaced, but recall the the Corps was found at least partly at fault for the Katrina flooding, due to design incompetence. And to me, the idea of accepting the validity of a gargantuan engineering-construction project at face value without studying drawings, understanding the basis of cost estimates, the scope of rights-of-way, the potential environmental impact, etc., is the height of folly.

Mr. Schraufnagel, you may have seen such information. I admit I have not, so I'm not exactly playing with a full deck. If you've seen such info, is it possible for the rest of us to see it? I feel I'm being sold a pig in a poke, having an expensive and disruptive project shoved down my throat, without the opportunity to understand it.

I realize that various governments do this to me all the time, but this one seems harder to swallow than usual.

Mason Schraufnagel

No problem at all. There has been extensive research and discussion on this for years now. I would suggest starting with the website: and attending the various meetings or even writing Dr. Merrell directly. He's a brilliant person and likely to respond to your inquiry. Relative to all the other proposals, the coastal spine solution is the strongest. Once built, the region can continue to enhance protection by including other measures over time, just as this concept is really an expansion of the Seawall project started in 1902.

Steve Fouga

Thank you, Mr. Schraufnagel. I really meant engineering drawings and analyses, not powerpoint slides. I've seen the presentations and attended the meetings. I've heard Dr. Merrell speak. I'm unconvinced that the Ike Dike is the right solution, although Dr. Bedient from Rice had nothing stellar to show either. I will probably remain unconvinced until I see the results of the Corps's study, which is scheduled for 2018.

If I tilt my head just right, and squint a little, I can see how you could call the Ike Dike an extension of the seawall. But in scope and design, it's an entirely different beast.

Again, thanks for the link. My fear is that those presentations really may be all there is behind the coastal spine concept.

George Croix

50 years later, they still move dirt with trucks and bulldozers, still dredge with dredges, and still pour concrete the same way...[wink].
It's fine to have your doubts about any other issues impacting the project beyond the construct it...but a closer reading of the 'naysayers' will show not a lack of faith in construction, but a close look at what is needed before it could even start, and the differences...there are some...between the project you picked as an example, and the ways it differs from what this one would entail...
For instance, you might want to check with the tourist industry and beachfront property owners and Galveston Bay environmentalists about that adding property value....and with refinery management about a multi-weeks raw material interruption...none of which was an issue in N.O.

Mason Schraufnagel

That's fine, George and these are concerns shared by many who have been working through the initial stages of this project. None of your concerns are new to those putting this together. Projects of this magnitude present various challenges and I'm sure there will be unexpected problems along the way, but that doesn't mean the project should be shelved. Again, this is a cooperative effort by several parties and the best part is, there is no new technology here. This design has been in use in Europe for a long time and we are simply incorporating it along the Texas coast. I encourage you to review the website and consider all of the positives this shield could provide.

David Smith

Still waiting on someone to show me how this will stop the flooding from the NORTH ... IKE floodes Galveston just like all other hurricanes.. before Ike was here flooding was occuring from the strong NORTH wind and high tides.. remember ike was a flood event.. not a rain event ..Ike had 2 inches of rain
You have 30 miles of windriven water coming from the north

Mason Schraufnagel

Hey David, the primary idea is to keep the surge out of the Bay and Channel. Ike had a massive storm surge that pushed all the way to I-10 and obviously flooded the region. The goal is to not allow that water in or at least keep a very high percentage of water out. The surge obliterated Bolivar and elsewhere and that is preventable with this design. Obviously wind and rain events remain challenging but building the Coastal Shield is step one while new building codes should help deal with wind/rain. What we don't want is another storm surge to come through and cause $80B in damage when we could protect ourselves now for a much cheaper price tag.

George Croix

That's fine, Mr. Schraufnagel, except I have not at any time suggested shelving the project, have I?
I have viewed the website and fully understand the many positives that successful prevention of major storm surge damage would bring, especially since I was one of the people IN the refinery on emergency duty whenever a storm was on the way, but for the life of me I don't recall much mention of major refining interruptions caused by the project, as but one thing, so that's why I mentioned that ...maybe I just missed it....that's happened before...
I also have had some experience, some positive but a lot very negative, with large scale and intricate issues where it was assumed that what workes one place will work another if the same things are done...but, that's another story, and certainly not indicative of all such plans.
At any rate, at 66 years old, I'm unlikely to ever find out one way or the other.
I DO encourage all the planners now and future to not unilaterally discount ANY input from anybody, outside the planner's cocoon, no matter who has been planning or for how long, or what the info/feedback source is.
No such thing as a 'settled' and unalterable project plan until it's over and done.....

BTW, my daughter and SIL are Aggies, and I hold season tickets for many years, so it's not an institutional bias based on origin of plan..... [beam][beam]
It's simply additional observations and experiences.....

Steve Fouga

"Time to mandate construction of a coastal spine"

Arguments about the coastal spine aside, what do the Musketeers mean by "mandate?" Force it on us without proper cost-benefit analysis? Force it on us regardless of whether there are better options? I hate mandates.

George Croix

Maybe it should be called the 'Affordable Spine Solution'....

Steve Fouga

[beam][beam][beam][beam] [whistling]

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