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!