Army Corps Addresses Ike Dike Concerns

WEDNESDAY, FEBRUARY 28, 2024


The United States Army Corps of Engineers’ stormwater mitigation project to prevent flooding in cities connected to the Galveston Bay in Texas is reportedly facing inflation and material costs, creating concerns over the project’s completion.

According to reports, though the project has had backing by state and federal funding, what’s been committed so far is still short of the current cost, which was reported to be 68% more than the last estimate of $34 billion in 2018.

Project Background

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.

In August 2020, the Severe Storm Prediction, Education & Evacuation from Disasters (SSPEED) Center at Texas A&M reported that it would be moving forward with its proposal.

Some months later, at the end of October 2020, 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 feet 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.

Then, in September 2021, the Army Corps of Engineers 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 was 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.

“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.

Recent News

A report from Construction Briefing states that without funding, complete approved designs and potential methods are still being developed, though the USACE explained some of the strategies that could be used.

“The plan is to deploy a multiple-lines-of-defence strategy to combine both green and grey infrastructure to reduce storm risks, threats of coastal erosion, and adapt to potential sea level rise attributed to climate change,” said the USACE Galveston group.

These strategies, according to USACE, are "composed of 22 separate features ranging from large storm protection gates across the Bolivar Roads inlet, 43 miles of beaches and dunes, 18+ miles of floodwalls and levees, and 6,600 acres of coastal ecosystem restoration.”

The USACE team has reportedly been working closely with the International Network for Storm Surge Barriers (I-STORM) on the project.

Back in March 2019, the USACE and I-STORM met for a brainstorming session to come up with some of the earliest design concepts for a part of the Coastal Texas Project.

“The [I-STORM] participants were asked to review and improve upon our earliest designs of the Bolivar Roads Gate System, and their suggestions were incorporated into our design,” explained USACE.

The project is expected to use a multi-level surge barrier system to allow its managers to better control storm surges and limit flooding along Texas’ west coast.

“The project will increase the state’s ability to withstand and recover from coastal storms, to adapt to rising sea levels, and to maintain the critical social, economic, and environmental systems which serve both Texas and the nation,” said USACE.

“Once constructed, the system will provide protection to critical supply chains tied to the Port of Houston, while protecting and defending impoverished communities throughout the region.”

According to the report, early data shows that the storm mitigation system could potentially handle a storm surge of over 20 feet.

Despite these efforts, a report from the Texas Tribune explained that some environmental groups have criticized the plan, stating it is an “imprudent effort to contain nature.” 

Criticisms reportedly included bird habitat removal, potential harm to area wetlands and decreasing water quality that could affect marine life.

However, USACE said that it is confident that once design and building begin, the project should follow through on its goal to reduce and limit damage caused by catastrophic storms.

“Modelling performed as part of the feasibility study estimates that over 77% of the storm surge damages associated with a 1% annual exceedance probability (AEP) surge event (representing a hurricane which has a 1% chance of occurring in any given year) would be mitigated by the improvements proposed as part of the Coastal Texas Project,” said USACE.

“This also includes a 64% reduction in flooded critical infrastructure points, which impact the ability of a region to bounce back quickly after a flood event.”

While the probability the Coastal Texas Project begins is still good, the final say will reportedly be in the hands of the U.S. Congress.

USACE stated that it may get approval as early as this year, though it may need take several more.

“Passage of WRDA 2022 authorised the US Army Corps of Engineers and its project partners to begin implementation activities for the program,” said USACE, noting it’s a first step but not one with any financial backing. “While Congress authorized the Coastal Texas Program under WRDA 2022, funding was not appropriated as part of the legislation.”

The final funding mechanism would reportedly be part of separate legislation, yet to be passed. Once that happens, the report states that the project should not be expected complete anytime soon.

“Critically, all features of the project will move through a rigorous design and environmental review process. As funding is phased in, engineering is completed, and National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) requirements are met, individual elements will move forward into construction as quickly as possible,” said USACE. “However, constructing the entire collection of projects may take as long as 20 years.”

If completed, the Gulf Coast Protection District and Texas General Land Office will reportedly be responsible for 35% of the total cost of the Coastal Texas Project, and the Federal government will handle the remaining 65%.

“The USACE has high confidence that the construction of multiple lines of defence on both the barrier islands and on the mainland together will provide a robust and redundant solution to mitigate storms both now and, in the future, given various climate change scenarios,” said USACE.

   

Tagged categories: Environmental Controls; Flood Barrier; Government; Government contracts; Green Infrastructure; Health & Safety; Health and safety; Infrastructure; Infrastructure; NA; North America; Program/Project Management; Safety; Stormwater; U.S. Army; U.S. Army Corps of Engineers; Upcoming projects; water damage

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