Author’s note: This is the final article in a series describing nine changes that we would propose to the U. S. Army Corps of Engineers Tentatively Selected Plan, based upon our Ike Dike-related research over the last decade.
We live in interesting times. Our population is moving to the coast, and the seas are rising to meet us. The United States is beginning to follow other nations in moving to strategies of protecting people and infrastructure from storm-induced damage, instead of allowing damages and then assisting in recovery.
A protection strategy is being developed for Texas’ Upper Gulf Coast, where hurricane-induced surge has the potential to claim thousands of lives and cause well over $100 billion in economic losses. However necessary and useful here, it isn’t a simple process at this point.
We citizens are dealing with trying to make sense of and properly comment on a massive, costly protection plan immersed in an inflexible U.S. Army Corps of Engineers process, obviously designed for smaller, more straightforward projects.
The relatively inflexible corps process also limits it in how it deals with the great uncertainties in planning conditions over the next decade. Instead of a fixed process, some form of adaptive management makes sense. We need to continuously monitor conditions and change our plans as conditions change.
For example, we need to adapt to relative sea level rises that are faster or slower than expected by hurrying additional protection or delaying it. Working with the federal government and state, we need to set up a regional institution, or institutions, that can effectively monitor changes in natural environmental conditions and the built environment, and using the latest technologies, modify coastal barrier planning appropriately.
For now, we need to remember the corps controls the planning and is constrained by its own process to design and build a barrier that would eliminate surge damage on the 100-year flood plain in 2084. This will naturally lead to some pretty hefty protection as they try to account for major uncertainties over decades, such as rate of sea level rise, nature of the development of our human settlements and changes in storm intensity and frequency.
And, although understanding that better technologies will be developed, they have to use present technologies to design a project expected to remain operational until at least 2084.
Given corps planning constraints, they’ve done a good job designing a strong spine, and although the plan is tentative as far as final detail, it provides plenty of detail for citizen response. Also, the design team has wisely alluded to areas where more non-structural approaches might be appropriate and even pointed out that engineered dunes could be examined for the land barrier.
I believe the corps and its funding partner, the Texas General Land Office, will seriously address our comments. That’s why I’m commenting publicly through this series of articles and my comments and hundreds of backup pages to the corps.
The Tentatively Selected Plan is a good plan in that it uses the correct overall strategy of a coastal spine as the main component of protection. But it can be tweaked to be a better plan.
In previous articles, I’ve tried to outline a modified version of a coastal spine design that I think fits better into the fabric of our coastal communities. It leaves no one in harm’s way in front of the barrier by placing an engineered dune land barrier directly on the beach. It gives more flexibility to managing transport of water through the water barrier by modifying the gates at Bolivar Roads to allow more open-water flow, especially on its far eastern portion.
By extending the barrier to the west and gating San Luis Pass, the design takes full advantage of the active gate system’s ability to reduce water levels and surge in the bay.
This surge reduction allows one to question the complexity, costs and even need for additional protection in the form of large gates at Clear Creek and Dickinson Bayou, the Galveston ring levee and the portion of the barrier that runs north from High Island.
As a plug for adaptive management, it’s useful to point out that these features can always be added or strengthened if changing conditions over the years warrant it.
I thank the corps and land office for the opportunity to comment and urge each of you to comment. Over the longer term, please get involved and stay involved in community organizations working to protect our region from coastal hazards. It’s not a one-time fix, but rather a continuous process.