Protecting the Texas coast from natural and manmade disasters continues to make headlines in local papers as various agencies and organizations work to find solutions to this complex issue – a solution the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Galveston District will be a part of implementing once a way forward is identified and funded.
“There are several proposed ideas to protect the Houston-Galveston region from hurricanes and storm surge but they are all missing a critical component that will assist leaders in making an informed decision about which project will best meet the communities’ needs while weighing the potential impacts on the environment and economy,” said Project Manager Sharon Tirpak, USACE Galveston District. “All of these proposals require the necessary studies to identify potential engineering and cost implications as well as the economic and environmental impacts to the region.”
Tirpak is referring to a feasibility study, which aims to objectively identify strengths and weaknesses of proposed plans as well as opportunities and threats to the environment and economy then balance these using a benefit-to-cost ratio to determine if a plan is worth pursuing.
With proposals such as the Ike Dike and inland barrier structures presented to the Texas Legislature’s Joint Interim Committee on Coastal Barrier Systems during a public hearing in August, Tirpak says partnering with agencies and stakeholders to find a permanent solution is the most effective way forward.
“We’re going out and talking to residents to gather input and feedback that will help us identify coastal storm risk management and ecosystem restoration problems and opportunities along the Texas coast,” said Tirpak. “These public scoping meetings are part of our Coastal Texas Protection and Restoration Reconnaissance Study.”
The yearlong federally-funded study will examine the 367-mile coastline to determine federal interest in conducting feasibility studies to identify potential shoreline degradation, storm damage risk reduction, environmental restoration and protection as well as related improvements along the Texas Gulf Coast to ensure the preservation of the Texas coastal region is balanced with the growth and needs of industries that fuel commerce and power the nation.
“We’ve been an integral part of the development of the Texas coast since 1880 when Congress established this district to oversee river and harbor improvements and we’ve continued to serve our coastal communities,” said Tirpak. “We helped Galveston recover from the 1900 hurricane (the deadliest natural disaster in American history) and build the iconic Galveston Seawall, which helped protect the island during Hurricane Ike in 2008. We’ll continue to work in partnership to find solutions to our coastal challenges and hope to soon identify non-federal sponsors to cost-share this study.”
Tirpak explains that the federal process requires time and patience, but it’s certainly navigable.
“It’s complex,” said Tirpak. “We have to first identify the problem and receive authorization and funding to move forward with a reconnaissance study. The reconnaissance phase must be completed within one year. Once that is complete, we must identify both a federal interest and a non-federal sponsor to fund the program.”
Tirpak notes that Corps’ studies require federal appropriation and a non-federal sponsor with cost share funds to move to a feasibility phase. If a non-federal sponsor is not identified by the end of this phase, the study will not move forward. Studies have the potential to advance to the preconstruction, engineering and design stage then to the final construction, operations and maintenance phases only if they receive a Chief’s Report (a memo signed by the chief of engineers – currently Gen. Thomas Bostick – with the final project recommendation and approval submitted to Congress) and further funding.
“It’s a complex study and it will be challenging to move through this process but the process generates irreversible momentum at a national scale,” said Col. Richard Pannell, USACE Galveston District commander. “We have the ability to achieve enormous value not just to this area but to the entire country.”
For now, Tirpak says the district is working through the reconnaissance phase and should know whether it will move on to the feasibility phase by next summer, adding that the feedback staff gained through four public scoping meetings, presentations to the Deer Park Community and the Texas Chapter of the American Shore & Beach Preservation Association as well as a presentation to the Texas Legislature’s Joint Interim Committee on Coastal Barrier Systems in August has proved invaluable.
“As we continue to work with our partners to share knowledge and make data available, we all benefit and move forward more rapidly in developing a long-term comprehensive coastal plan for Texas,” said Tirpak.