Feature Photo (above): The Dow Barge Canal in Freeport, looking east from the Nolan Ryan Expressway (Hwy 288). Image: Google Maps.
by Adolfo Pesquera
The month of October marked the passage of America’s Water Infrastructure Act, a federal bill authorizing $3.7 billion for 12 new U.S. Army Corp of Engineers project and $4.4 billion in drinking water projects.
The AWI Act contains authorizations for several projects in Texas, the largest being the Sabine Pass to Galveston Bay Coastal Storm Risk Management and Ecosystem Restoration; $2.2 billion was provided for the project, which according to a 2017 Army Corps study has an estimated cost of more than $3.2 billion.
Another $15.6 million was included for the Houston-Galveston Navigation Channel Extension. Both projects are related to a much larger project, what is referred to as the Coastal Spine–a flood control system intended to mitigate the worst potential effects of a hurricane.
The U.S. Senate accepted House amendments on Oct. 11 and sent the bill to President Donald Trump. He signed the bill Oct. 23. Three days later, the Army Corps announced its decision to proceed with an expanded version of the Texas coastal barrier.
Funding through the AWI Act, however, is limited by a requirement that there be annual appropriations installments for projects to be constructed. The Army Corps will have to compete for limited appropriations dollars for other authorized, but not-yet-started projects, Engineering News-Record noted.
This expanded version increases the cost from an estimated $15 billion to something in the range of $23-to-$31 billion. Kelly Burks-Copes, project manager of the Army Corps study, was reported in the Houston Chronicle as stating the higher cost was the result of inclusion of the entire Texas coast versus just the Ike Dike, so named because of the damage Hurricane Ike caused in the Galveston area.
The funds to complete a project of that scale are not yet in the pipeline, but this year’s authorization puts the Army Corps in position to plan for the construction of several critical elements.
Major Project Authorizations:
- Navigation: Houston-Galveston Navigation Channel Extension
- Flood Risk Management: Ala Wai Canal (Hawaii); Mamaroneck-Sheldrake Rivers (New York)
- Hurricane and Storm Damage Risk Reduction: St. Johns County (Florida); St. Lucie County (Florida); Sabine Pass to Galveston Bay
The final Environmental Impact Statement for Sabine Pass to Galveston Bay was released a few months before Hurricane Harvey inundated the coast. Congress was awaiting the Army Corps’ “Tentative Selected Plan” when it passed the AWI Act.
While the Coastal Spine project is not fully funded and Harvey necessitated some revisions, the recommended plan in the 2017 report would still be a good indicator of where the Army Corps would start, since the EIS is done. It consists of three recommended elements.
- Orange 3 CSRM Plan: add 15.6 miles of new levees and 10.7 miles of new floodwalls and gates, seven new pump stations, and navigable sector gates in Adams and Cow Bayous. Project cost is about $1.93 billion
- Port Arthur and Vicinity: raise 5.5 miles of the existing 27.8-mile earthen levee to elevations of from 14.4-to-17.2 feet. Construct or reconstruction 5.7 miles of floodwall. Build a new 1,830-foot-long earthen levee northwest of the existing northern terminus in the Port Neches area. Project cost is about $729 million.
- Freeport and Vicinity: raise about 13.1 miles of existing earthen levee and construct or reconstruct 5.5 miles of floodwall. Install navigable sector gates at Dow Barge Canal. Raise and reconstruct the Highway 332 crossing at Dow Barge Canal. Raise the floodwall at Port Freeport’s Berth 5 dock. Project cost is about $593 million.
The Dow Barge Canal is an 8-mile canal that services a large Dow Chemical plant in Freeport.
The Town Resaca at Calle Retama in Brownsville. Image: Google Maps.
The Act includes many minor projects across the nation, including the Resacas at Brownsville. Coincidentally, the Army Corps and Brownsville Public Utilities Board held a groundbreaking in August to launch the resaca ecosystem restoration project.
Brownsville is located on the delta formed by the Rio Grande. Before dams built upstream tamed the river, it would occasionally jump its banks over the millennia and cut a new path to the gulf. As a result, many snake-like lakes that were once riverways criss-cross the city.
The resacas have been adversely affected by urban development. The restoration project will result in the removal of non-native invasive plant species, planting of native plant species, and improvements to the resaca banks.