This column was published in the Galveston Daily News on Nov 20, 2020 in response to the commentary by Armin Cantini (“Coastal study of storm-surge system deserves support,” The Daily News, Nov. 13):
The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and the Texas General Land Office are proposing a multi-billion tax dollar-funded two-mile long gate system across the mouth of Galveston Bay and levees in Galveston and Port Bolivar to “keep storm surge in the Gulf.”
However, gates and levees cannot hold back the power of a hurricane and flooding cannot be prevented around the bay. Wash-over, or surge that crosses over the barrier island into the bay, will still occur. Rainfall will still cause localized flooding that may be trapped behind the gates, exacerbating flooding impacts.
Although well-intentioned, the gates have the potential to do more harm than good to the coast, resulting in the destruction of fisheries, loss of habitat for wildlife (including endangered species such as sea turtles and birds), a reduction in the economic value of recreation activities, and impact the values of homes on Galveston and Bolivar.
The Corps still doesn’t know what the extent of the environmental, economic and social impacts will be, and Texans need answers before our tax dollars are appropriated for the project.
The Corps projects that the project wouldn’t be completed until 2033-41 at the soonest. After a record-breaking hurricane season in 2020, we desperately need more immediate solutions to protect our communities against future hurricane seasons.
In the face of climate change and rising sea levels, building a gate system would take time and resources that we don’t have. There are measures that are more affordable and more sustainable that can be taken immediately. We need to take a multi-faceted approach and work with nature to simultaneously fortify our community and protect communities, industries, natural resources and wildlife.
Proven sustainable and more cost-effective measures include improving drainage in developed areas, elevating homes in flood-prone regions, fortifying structures and improving evacuation procedures and routes.
We can enhance natural storm barriers by restoring and expanding oyster reefs, protecting, restoring and expanding natural areas such as wetlands and grasslands, leaving natural areas within the floodplain to soak up floodwaters and establishing regular cycles of beach re-nourishment that allows for natural processes such as wash-over.
The project’s final costs are still unknown. Current figures are estimated between $23 billion to $36 billion and has estimates of $100 million to $131 million a year in funds needed for operation and maintenance. We need to look at tried-and-true affordable and sustainable solutions that can be implemented now, not within 20 to 30 years.
Protecting our community from hurricane damage is critical, and expensive gates that that are doomed to fail isn’t the silver-bullet solution. The Corps is hosting public comment periods Dec. 3 and Dec. 8, but Texans need more time than the short 45 days to research the impacts of the gates. We encourage you to attend these public meetings, submit public comments and ask for a full 90-day extension to properly review the Corps’ 1,000-plus page plan.
Kimber De Salvo Anderson is the Gulf program coordinator for the Turtle Island Restoration Network.