Houston-area Residents Protest Hurricane Plan

Joint Task Force-129 crew, Jolly 92, flies over the storm surge that overtook the Bolivar Peninsula bridge near Galveston, Texas, Sept. 12, 2008.
Joint Task Force-129 crew, Jolly 92, flies over the storm surge that overtook the Bolivar Peninsula bridge near Galveston, Texas, Sept. 12, 2008.

LEAGUE CITY — A public meeting to gather input from Houston-area residents on various hurricane protection plans turned into a mini protest Tuesday with several attendees wielding homemade signs with messages challenging a levee proposal that would leave certain communities around Galveston Bay unprotected.

“I’m very angry,” said Shoreacres resident Christina Tuma, juggling a handful of bright yellow poster boards in the middle of a packed room at a local civic center. “I won’t let it happen.”

Earlier this month, a six-county coalition formed in the wake of Hurricane Ike unveiled a $3.5 billion plan for a 56-mile levee system, concluding it would provide a nearly equivalent level of protection to another, more popular plan — called the “coastal spine” — while costing several billion dollars less. But it has set off a firestorm of opposition in the Houston-area communities on the west side of Galveston Bay, including Shoreacres, which would be left outside the dike. Residents and officials there have shot down similar proposals in the past.

The Gulf Coast Community Protection and Recovery District is gathering public input on its plan before making a final recommendation in June, hosting a few public meetings this month in cities near the coast. Its proposal will influence the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers as that agency embarks on a study of how best to protect the Texas coast from hurricanes.

Nearly 300 residents attended Tuesday’s meeting at the League City Civic Center, where they watched an informational video, quizzed recovery district officials, studied giant maps — which they covered in post-it notes with their feedback — and submitted official public comment forms.

 

A recovery district spokesman noted the turnout was much higher than at public meetings held last year before the recovery district had proposed a specific plan, noting the levee system is “not very popular.”

Almost all of the dozen attendees the Tribune interviewed said they opposed the levee plan, which calls for expanding and extending an existing levee around Texas City northward along State Highway 146 and westward to the community of Santa Fe. The part of the proposed levee closest to Texas City — home to several major refineries — sits right on Galveston Bay, but most of it is set back from the water, meaning the communities between it and the bay are left unprotected. 

“I would be on the other side of their great wall,” said Seabrook resident Joan Butler, noting that would make her house flood even more during a storm. “I have a hard time with insurance now being east of 146 — a lot of companies won’t even write.  If that levee goes, I’m going to have nobody writing and nobody’s going to want to buy my house.”

Still, Recovery District President Robert Eckels said he think the final recommendation will be a hybrid of the levee proposal and the coastal spine, which calls for extending Galveston’s century-old 17-foot seawall down the entire length of the island and northward onto Bolivar Peninsula. A massive floodgate between the two landmasses would be closed ahead of a storm. 

But Eckels said public input would play a “huge” role in the recovery district’s final recommendation.

Several dozen communities have endorsed the coastal spine — conceived at Texas A&M University at Galveston — along with some state lawmakers, the Texas Municipal League and at least one major industry group. It also received a favorable cost-benefit ratio from recovery district engineers — just not as high as the levee proposal.

While many attendees expressed opposition to the levee proposal Tuesday, however, far fewer were sold on the $6 to $8 billion coastal spine. 

Tuma, the Shoreacres resident who also is the secretary for the Houston Yacht Club, was skeptical of building anything. She said she would need to see a sizable and well-researched cost-benefit before she could support a particular plan.

"I say it's nature," she said. "If you live in California, how are you going to protect yourself from earthquakes?"

"If you live next to the coast, your option is to build up, which a lot of people have. Those that haven't will fall by the wayside and somebody will buy the land and build up."

 

 

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