Storm levee planning gets official feedback
Last updated 4/6/2021 at 8:01pm
Folks at the Galveston District of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers likes to call themselves “Champions of the Texas Coast.”
Who are way more important than Guardians of the Galaxy, in the minds of any right-thinking, flood-weary Orange County residents.
Those Champions have been having closed-doors meetings with city and county elected leaders to discuss plans for a system of levees, floodwalls, gates and pump stations being designed to reduce the risk to human life and economic damages on the Texas Gulf Coast and sometimes called “The Ike Dike.”
“Yes, members of the Galveston District have been discussing project details with Orange County commissioners and city council members to provide updates on the project during the early design phase,” said Francisco G. Hamm, Deputy Chief of Public Affairs for the Galveston District.
“Public outreach events will be held in the future.”
The most important numbers for Orange County’s public to remember are 2027 and $2.4 billion.
That’s the latest projected date for completion of the entire $26 billion Coastal Spine Gulf Coast Protection Project of levees, sand dunes and flood gates running from South Padre Island to the Sabine River and $2.4 billion is the estimated cost of the Orange County Coastal Storm Risk Management (CSRM) Project.
People who have been to those meetings say the Corps' designers are checking their plans with – and meeting some resistance from -- the elected officials.
At issue is exactly where a flood protection levee and walls as tall as 27 feet will be located. At least one long-planned downtown dining and entertainment venue, the Boardwalk Grille, has scrapped its plans to locate on the Orange Boardwalk because the levee is expected to rewrite downtown Orange beautification plans.
The Texas Legislature is considering creating a taxing entity which will have the power to not only take from people’s pockets for levee upkeep but also take great swaths of private property via eminent domain – and in many cases, divide large properties to build the wall.
County Judge John Gothia said a week ago citizens should chill out until things shake out a bit more.
“There are several things we have concern with the way the bills are working their way through the process,” Gothia said. “It’s liable to change eight or 10 times going through the Legislature.”
Hamm, the Corps of Engineers spokesman, said the Orange County Coastal Storm Risk Management Project is one of three projects that make up the Sabine Pass to Galveston Bay Program, with the other two being improvements to existing Hurricane Flood Protection Projects (HFPP) at Port Arthur and Freeport.
“The 2018 Bi-Partisan Budget Act that provided the appropriation for these flood risk management projects encourages the Corps and its partners to complete construction on an expedited schedule,” Hamm stated via email.
“The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Southwestern Division has established a $5.2 billion Hurricane Damage Reconstruction and Risk Reduction Program. The program comprises 40 projects across three states (Oklahoma, Arkansas, and Texas) and will provide critical, enhanced flood risk reduction measures to the region.
“All work in the program is expected to be complete by 2027.”
The 2018 Bi-Partisan Budget Act authorized $15 billion for construction. Language does not specify it’s for Sabine Pass to Galveston Bay but the funds are available for approved projects.
Hamm says the Corps “is currently in the early stages of preconstruction engineering and design (PED) for the Orange County CSRM Project. The project team expects to complete PED by the end of 2022, followed by construction which will take approximately five years.”
Hence 2027 -- if all goes according to schedule.
Hamm says a publicly accessible website will be available soon to provide more specific details on the project. He said the site would be updated throughout the design phase.