SE Texas Record

Saturday, September 21, 2019

Harris County Attorney Ryan approved to begin legal work on Galveston Bay hurricane protection project

Attorneys & Judges

By David Yates | Aug 30, 2019

HOUSTON - Harris County Attorney Vince Ryan is taking the first steps toward protection of Harris County and the western shoreline of Galveston Bay from strong storms.

Ryan Tuesday won approval from Commissioners Court for his proposal to design the legal frame work that would be required if Harris County decides to help construct the Galveston Bay Hurricane Protection Park.

The park would provide a 25-foot-high barrier in Galveston Bay as a series of islands, extending from Houston Point down the ship channel to Texas City, to provide protection from storm surge for parts of Harris County and Galveston Bay’s west bank. The area is home to 800,000 people, 2.2 million barrels of refining capacity and hundreds of chemical plants along the channel. Dredged material from the planned expansion of the Ship Channel would be used to build the islands. In addition to storm surge protection, the islands would provide 10,000 acres of public land that would be open for recreational uses including camping, fishing, a marina and event space.

“The unprecedented nature of the plan, its complexity, and the involvement of many different governmental agencies and private industries create unique legal challenges,” County Attorney Ryan said, “Commissioners Court has authorized us to work with others to find solutions and we look forward to bringing those solutions back to Commissioners Court for consideration.”

The Galveston Bay Hurricane Protection Park was developed by Rice University’s Severe Storm Prediction, Education & Evacuation from Disasters (SSPEED).

“Using advanced computer models, The SSPEED Center determined that a hurricane striking Galveston Bay and moving up the Houston Ship Channel would create a 26-foot storm surge causing catastrophic loss of human life,” said Philip Bedient, Director of the SSPEED Center. “Such a storm could also create the worst environmental disaster in the history of the United States, leading to further loss of life and property.

“The SSPEED Center has worked since 2012 developing and designing a coastal surge protection system for Harris County and Houston that could actually be built in a reasonable time frame,” explained Bedient. “With the very clear and present danger of large storms impacting the coastal United States, it is imperative that we move quickly to shore up our protection system.”

If initial permitting work begins this year, the project could be completed before 2030.

“The longest lag time on a hurricane protection project is the legal process and this is an important first step on the journey,” said County Attorney Ryan.

The approval comes two years after Hurricane Harvey struck southeast Texas and 11 years after Hurricane Ike hit Harris County.

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