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Army Corps Releases $29B Ike Dike Study

Monday, September 27, 2021

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The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers has recently submitted its final feasibility report and final environmental impact statement for the Coastal Texas Protection and Restoration Study to the Chief of Engineers.

Upon approval from U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and the U.S. Army, the six-year, $20.63 million comprehensive study will be forwarded to the Congressional Office of Management and Budget.

The purpose of the study was to identify feasible projects, most notably the proposed Ike Dike, that would reduce risks to public health and the economy, restore critical ecosystems, and advance coastal resiliency.

Ike Dike Development History

While Hurricane Ike devastated Galveston in 2008, it wasn’t until nearly a decade later when Hurricane Harvey wreaked havoc on the state of Texas that plans were submitted for coastal protection. While the state issued a $61 billion rebuilding plan to Congress only a few months following Harvey, the request also outlined the construction of new infrastructure.

Specifically, in an attempt to future-proof the coast, the rebuild request outlined the building of detention lakes, dredging canals and the construction of the “Ike Dike,” a $12 billion series of “coastal spines.” The three barriers were proposed to prevent incoming storm surges and help water to be pumped out more easily.

After conducting a three-year study on protecting Texas’ coasts from hurricanes and storm surges, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers announced in October 2018 that the 70-mile-long Ike Dike was the preferred choice for the job.

Plans for the coastal barrier, similar to the one originally proposed by Texas A&M University marine science professor Bill Merrell, were developed in a partnership between the Army Corps of Engineers and the Texas General Land Office. At the time, the barrier was estimated to cost as much as $31 billion.

The Ike Dike barrier would consist of a system of levees and sea gates beginning north of High Island, running along Bolivar Peninsula. The coastal barrier would also wind its way across the entrance of Galveston Bay and run the length of Galveston Island, eventually including the pre-existing seawall, ending at San Luis Pass.

At the bay’s entrance a series of storm surge gates would accommodate navigation to a few ports, namely Galveston’s, Texas City’s and Houston’s. A navigation gate, located along the Houston Ship Channel, would close during storms. Galveston would be protected with a ring levee shielding the rear of the island.

Other plans for the Ike Dike include beach and dune restoration along the lower Texas coast. Nine ecosystem restoration projects are also in the works to help increase area resilience.

Despite the promise of these plans, there were a number of environmental concerns—namely, the potential impact on wetlands and tidal change constriction that would determine the salinity of estuaries, which could have a wider environmental impact.

Only a few weeks after the Corps’ announcement, Rice University researchers also voiced concerns over plans for the project, specifically citing worry over the completeness of the three-year study. Hurricanes Harvey, Irma and Maria were more powerful than 2008’s Hurricane Ike, and according to Rice University professor Jim Blackburn, the storms studied by the Corps were too small.

In turn, the Severe Storm Prediction, Education & Evacuation from Disasters Center proposed a 25-foot, mid-bay barrier system that could protect Galveston Bay as well as the industrial complexes and populated areas in the bay's northwest and west regions. Blackburn noted that this suggestion is part of a bifurcated system that would include an internal barrier and a coastal barrier. SSPEED’s proposal could also work in conjunction with the Corps’ tentative plan; it could also be built in less time and at a fraction of the cost—$3 billion to $5 billion, in comparison.

In response to the proposal, the Corps reportedly remained concerned over the potential impact over oyster beds in the area.

In August 2020, the SSPEED Center reported that it would be moving forward with its proposal.

Some months later, at the end of October, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and the Texas General Land Office released a second draft of its envisioned multi-billion-dollar coastal storm barrier, Ike Dike.

According to the Corps, the project has the potential to save the state $2.28 billion annually in storm-associated recovery costs, noting that Hurricane Ike caused $38 billion in damages alone.

Noting on the project’s revisions, one of the biggest changes involves the replacement of a series of levees and floodways previously slated to run parallel to State Highway 87 on Bolivar Peninsula and FM 3005 on Galveston Island with 43 miles of a natural dune and beach system.

The system is reportedly made up of 14-foot dunes on the landward side and 12-foot dunes on the Gulf, followed by 250 of beach. While the Corps notes that the change will reduce environmental and social impacts, it would also require about 39 million cubic yards of sand for beach and dune construction on both Bolivar Peninsula and West Galveston Island.

Other changes to the project proposal involved updating the storm surge gate between Galveston and Bolivar Peninsula to two 650-foot-wide surge gates at the mouth of Galveston Bay, instead of the initially proposed 1,200-foot wide gate. Although the change would reduce the water flow by 10%, the Corps estimates that design change have less of an impact on restricting the flow of water between the bay and the Gulf than previously proposed, adding that the gates would only be closed during the event of a storm.

Another major revision to the coastal protection system is what the Corps call a “ring barrier system.” The system is composed of 14-foot-high floodwalls and gates surrounding a 15-mile stretch of Galveston Island’s backside. The updated version also recommends increasing the height of an 8-mile stretch of the existing Galveston Seawall to 21 feet.

At the time, officials estimated the project could cost anywhere between $23 billion to $32 billion.

Final Study Issued

At the beginning of the month the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers released its final study of the nearly $29 billion proposal to better protect the Texas Gulf Coast from hurricanes and storm surge.

“The impacts from Hurricane Ike, which peaked at a 20 plus foot storm surge along the Texas coast, really created the impetus for action,” said Col. Timothy Vail, the District Commander for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Galveston District. “We don’t want to have to wait for another storm to start providing the level of protection that we need along the Texas coast.”

While none of the project’s designs have changed since October 2020’s revision, Vail reported that if approved, the project’s gates could be prioritized and implemented first due to the immediate benefits they would provide.

“The gate structure allows the rest of the components of the projects to reach their maximum effectiveness, and building the gate structure allows us to obtain benefits as soon as the gate structures are in place,” he said.

However, the gates wouldn’t be able to protect the coast efficiently on their own, Vail added, saying that the entire project “needs to be delivered because it’s all integrated.”

The latest draft has updated the cost of the project, estimating a price tag of $28.8 billion.

Federal funding would cover 65% of the project’s cost. Once approved, the project would go to Congress, where it would likely be considered in 2022 under the Water Resources and Development Act, a bipartisan piece of legislation passed every two years to authorize projects by the Army Corps of Engineers.

In terms of local funding, earlier this year the Texas government created the Gulf Coast Protection District, which aims to secure local funds for flood mitigation projects in coastal communities.

“Our job is to be the non-federal sponsor and look to ways to raise money in order to build it, to do our matching 35%,” said Bob Mitchell, President of the Bay Area Houston Economic Partnership and Vice President of the Gulf Coast Protection District.

Even after funding is secured, much of the project still needs to undergo additional design and environmental impact processes before construction can start. The Army Corps estimates all of that could take another 12 to 20 years before the entire project would be completed.

Flood Research

In a study conducted by Stanford University at the beginning of the year, researchers found that the United States has spent nearly $199 billion in flood damages over the last three decades.

However, researchers went a step further than just comprising a spending report and further indicated that the flooding experienced from 1988 to 2017 as a result of intensifying precipitation—consistent with predictions of global warming—was responsible for one-third ($75 billion) of the total financial costs.

The research was published in January in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences and is reported to have helped resolve a long-standing debate about the role of climate change in the rising costs of flooding and provides new insight into the financial costs of global warming overall.

To settle the debate of how much climate change has actually contributed to the rising financial costs of flooding—the most common, widespread and costly natural hazards—researchers looked at socioeconomic factors like population growth, housing development and increasing property values, in addition to correlations between precipitation and flood damages.

Previously, the university noted that other studies focused either on very detailed case studies or just participation correlations.

To start, researchers looked at higher resolution climate and socioeconomic data where they applied advanced methods from economics to quantify the relationship between historical precipitation variations and historical flooding costs. The research team also looked at methods from statistics and climate science to evaluate the impact of changes in precipitation on total flooding costs.

As a result, the analyses showed that not only did climate change contribute substantially to the growing cost of flooding in the U.S., but that if the nation were to exceed the levels of global warming agreed upon in the United Nations Paris Agreement, the effects would only grow and continue to worsen.

To further isolate changing precipitation as the primary root of increased national flooding, researchers developed an economic model based on observed precipitation and monthly reports of flood damage. In their model, researchers controlled other factors that might affect flooding costs like increases in home values, and then calculated the change in extreme precipitation in each state over the study period. As a result, the team was then able to use the model to determine what the economic damages would have been if those changes in extreme precipitation had not occurred.

Through this framework, the team found that changes in precipitation accounted for 36% of the actual flooding costs that occurred in the U.S. from 1988 to 2017 and was primarily driven by increases in extreme precipitation.

Moving forward, the research team hopes that their approach can be used in observing other types of natural hazards and climate impacts against different sectors of the economy and to other regions of the globe to help understand the costs and benefits of climate adaptation and mitigation actions.


Tagged categories: Flood Barrier; Government; Government contracts; Infrastructure; Infrastructure; NA; North America; Program/Project Management; Project Management; U.S. Army; U.S. Army Corps of Engineers; Upcoming projects

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