When the original plan for a coastal barrier system was introduced late last year, we suggested that residents go to public hearings and voice their opinions. They did.
The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers evidently not only heard the people during the hearings, but listened. There were more than 6,000 public comments about the barrier plan it released in November.
Since the hearings, the corps rethought the plan. The corps announced Thursday that it was somewhat altering direction and released a new set of proposals.
While officials had stressed that the initial plan still needed to be developed in detail, it emphasized levees and flood gates to hold back floodwaters. The new plan, which won’t to be released in written form until next year, does away with the levees in favor of building dunes.
The corps plans to publish its new proposals in early 2020 and will have another series of public meetings to gain even more feedback about the barrier, said Kelly Burks-Copes, the project manager for the corps project.
Holding the additional meetings is unusual and perhaps unprecedented. The corps’ normal procedure is to hold one comment period, Burks-Copes said. The public reaction to the initial plan warranted a second set of meetings, she said.
Even after those meetings, though, we suspect there will be people who both oppose or support the new plan. To see the corps taking public opinion into consideration is commendable.
But getting the plan together is not where the real debating and negotiation is likely taking place, getting the funding for the project will be. With an estimated $31 billion price tag, it could be tough.
While we who live on the Texas Gulf Coast can see the need for the barrier, what about other parts of the country that are also targets of Atlantic hurricanes?
Certainly, lawmakers in California, whose residents face yearly threats of wildfires might argue for a piece of the budget pie. States along the Mississippi River, which has its share of flooding, have an agenda for their lawmakers.
The drive for a major storm-surge project in this part of the county was intense after Hurricane Ike and support was deep and wide, but such interest and support can tend to flag as time passes. There’s a real danger of that happening, especially among national leaders with no direct connection to the Texas coast.
So, while it is good the corps is retooling the plan in hopes of giving residents another round of public meetings, it is going to have just as rough a time convincing Congress that the barrier is needed.
• Dave Mathews