GALVESTON, Texas - No significant, large-scale improvements have been made to protect the Texas Gulf Coast since Hurricane Ike when flooding nearly decimated Galveston Island, according to members of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, which is studying possible solutions.
"We will probably see the same amount of damage and destruction that Ike had," Mike deMasi, Galveston Army Corps of Engineers emergency management director, said if another large-scale storm hits the area. "The biggest challenge is coming up with the funding to make big changes."
The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers relies on direction and funding from Congress. Eight years after Ike, Congress has not funded any major flood improvement projects along the Texas Gulf Coast.
After Hurricane Katrina, agencies in Louisiana received millions of dollars to beef up flood prevention systems. Everyone, including politicians with the power to fund massive projects, wanted to help.
But when Ike hit three years later, the situation was different.
"We were off the front page within a couple of days," Maureen Patton, the grand executive director, said.
Patton recalled mug covering Galveston streets once several-feet-high water
Days after Ike hit in 2008, the United States economy began its collapse. National politicians’ attention went elsewhere.
Last Wednesday, top brass at the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers got a bird's eye view of the areas most at-risk when the next storm arrives. They flew over the coast and Houston in U.S. Army Blackhawk helicopters.
New, big homes dot Bolivar Peninsula, but they have little protection. Galveston's seawall doesn't stretch to the new homes on the west end.
Nothing stops deadly storm surge from crippling the shipping industry.
The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and Brig. Gen. David Hill recently received congressional funding to study what to do next.
One idea involves a massive construction project to install giant gates from Bolivar Peninsula to the east end of Galveston Island. Gates could swing shut keeping dangerous storm surge out at sea when a hurricane approaches. There are environmental concerns as well.
Another option being studied is extending the seawall. A levee could also be built similar to the one that worked well during Ike in Texas City, protecting the refineries.
None of these ideas comes cheaply. Costs could be close to $10 billion.
The study to decide what to do next isn't scheduled to be finished until 2021.
"It takes time to study and make good recommendations,” Hill said. “We follow the direction of the administration and Congress when they decide a project is a priority."
U.S. Rep. Randy Webber, a Republican representing Galveston and coastal areas east, doesn't like the delay. Webber joined the U.S. House in 2013.
“It absolutely does concern me," he said about delays in flood mitigation projects since Ike. “We need to protect this district but everything has to be studied for environmental impact statements, for engineering for methods and cost. We also need to make sure we can get bipartisan support.”
Webber and U.S. Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, introduced bills this year to speed up the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers' study.
The bills, which have not been voted on and have not yet become law, would direct the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to use previous studies, when possible, for elements needed to make up the larger study.
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