At Fort San Jacinto Point on Galveston Island, where the seawall ends and the water between Galveston and Bolivar Peninsula begins, Army Corps of Engineers Mega Projects Division’s Kelly Burks-Copes stands. A lighthouse marks Bolivar Peninsula, and boats pass through to the Houston Ship Channel. This site may change in 20 years.
“We’re going to have a series of gates that go across, there’s about 37 of them if I counted right,” Burks-Copes added.
The Army Corps proposes to build the Ike Dike there to keep up to 22 feet of storm surge from entering the bay, up the Houston Ship Channel, and destroying houses, businesses, and the petrochemical complex.
“You’re looking at the Corps of Engineers’ largest civil works project ever undertaken,” she said.
Initial Ike Dike Funding
The Army Corps’ $29 billion project to safeguard Texas from hurricane storm surge centers on the gates. The analysis and strategy took six years and $20 million. Congress approved the proposal late last year. Before breaking ground, the project needs funding and answers to critical questions regarding how it will affect ship navigation and the bay’s ecosystem.
“Now we can kind of start moving forward in a way we hadn’t been able to before,” said Nicole Sunstrum, Executive Director of the Gulf Coast Protection District, the state entity responsible for securing local funds for the project.
Texas and the federal government should fund two-thirds of the project. The Army Corps will study the gates first since they take the longest to design and build but give the most defense. The funding will likely come in chunks. The Gulf Coast Protection District budget is $500 million this legislative session. Sunstrum feels it will be enough locally to get things started.
“The speed, the scale, that is so heavily dependent on federal funds,” she said.
Sunstrum intends to update in June during federal appropriations.
“There are federal funding options,” she stated.
Randy Weber has begun one of those paths. He proposed $100 million from the House Appropriations Committee for the project in FY 2024. After funding, construction will take years. The Corps of Engineers’ Kelly Burks-Copes said extensive studies and design changes are needed.
She said it will take seven years to construct the gates, with ship navigation and environmental studies needed. The Corps will develop three islands between Galveston and Bolivar Peninsula for the main gates. Each 650-foot gate would close only during a storm. Burkes-Copes said painting each gate will take a year since they’re so enormous. Vertical lift gates would connect the main gates to the coastlines.
“They’re football fields wide and 62 feet tall. “And in open position, they’ll be up here in the air,” said Burks-Copes. “There’s about a 10-story stanchion between each one that will hold them up in the air, and then when they’re deployed, they drop down.”
The Greater Houston Port Bureau recently highlighted worries that cargo ships might have trouble passing through the major gates due to their construction. Do you know Texas Senate Adopts $308 Billion Budget Package, Starting High Stakes House Deliberations?
Burks-Copes stated ship simulations are needed after funding and design work. “We will run the simulations repeatedly as we make changes.”
Though the gates are the centerpiece of the $34 billion project, the plan also includes building a “double dune” system on 43 miles of beaches on Galveston and Bolivar Peninsula, with 14-foot landward dunes and 12-foot Gulf dunes to protect against storm surge. To prevent coastal erosion, the Corps will extend the beaches into the Gulf with nearly a football field of sand.
Below we have a tweed about the Ike Dike funding that could come through later this year. You can see below:
The research also recommends building a “ring barrier system” of floodwalls, gates, pump stations, and levees 18 miles around Galveston Island. Simple details can affect the entire ecosystem. According to Burks-Copes, the dunes’ sand could harm endangered sea turtles that nest on the beaches. The eggs’ incubation temperature determines turtle gender.
“The problem is if you put the wrong color of sand on the beach, it will end up being all male or all female,” Burks-Copes added. “So we have to match what’s out there not to affect turtle populations.”
The Army Corps is performing the environmental study in steps since the project is so big. This strategy worries environmentalists.
“They’ve essentially decided which direction they’re going to go without understanding the environmental impacts,” said Galveston Bay Foundation Bob Stokes. “It’s not ideal.”
Stokes expressed concern about the gates’ impact on the bay’s environment. While open, the current gate design would reduce Gulf-Bay water flow by 10%. Stokes noted that, while not much, it would affect the tidal range and damage vast areas of the area’s intertidal marshes. You must check out State Office Grants Southeast Texas $25M In Imelda Funding.
“You’re going to lose essentially, the grass at the very top and the very bottom of the intertidal range,” he added.’
Stokes suggested studying the gates’ effects on water quality and fish nurseries. As climate change raises sea levels and warms Gulf waters, it’s unclear if the system being constructed will safeguard the region from future storms.
“Will the structure we design today to be protected from increased sea level rise not just 20 years from now but 50 years from now?” Stokes stated.
The Army Corps must safeguard billions of dollars and lives. Kelly Burks-Copes of the Army Corps said a project this large would forever affect the Texas coast. “There’s only going to be one shot at this; we need to make sure we get it right the first time,” she said.