No, seriously, what are we going to do to prepare for the next Hurricane Laura?

I mean, the next one is coming whether we’re ready or not. We just don’t know when it will be here.

Though the storm ultimately tracked east, sparing Houston, the problem remains: The region is disastrously unready to handle any of the three main threats of an intense hurricane: a high surge, damaging winds and — even three years after Hurricane Harvey — flooding.

While Harvey’s devastating stall over the Houston area has resulted in billions of dollars of investment in flood control infrastructure and new regulations, Laura reminded the region of what a different kind of storm could do.

In its wake, leaders have made impassioned pleas about preparing for when — not if — that storm does arrive. Most notably, they have ramped up calls for federal funding on a so-called “coastal spine,” a system of levees, gates and dunes first proposed after Hurricane Ike in 2008, to protect the region from a storm surge.

Those plans, though, remain mired in the slog of the federal approval process. The kind of political will and cohesion needed to fast-track such infrastructure typically only forms after disasters, not before.


There are signs the region has reached an inflection point on the need to protect against that threat. A growing consensus among local officials around the effects of climate change has shifted the public policy debate to figuring out which infrastructure projects will help stave off its worst effects, and at what cost.

The proposed coastal spine, a 71-mile-long barrier system to protect the southeast Texas coast, has received the most attention since it was taken up by the Army Corps of Engineers in October 2018.

The plan is an outgrowth of the “Ike Dike” concept first pitched more than a decade ago by William Merrell, a professor of marine sciences at Texas A&M University at Galveston. It includes a series of gates that stretch the two-mile length of Bolivar Road, twin rows of 14-foot-high sand dunes across Galveston Island and Bolivar Peninsula, a ring levee around Galveston’s city center and investments in ecosystem restoration.

The price tag has been put at $23 billion to $32 billion, with the dunes and sea gate at the ship channel alone costing up to $18 billion of that. It is in the midst of a five-year design and study process and is on track to be sent to Congress for final approval in May 2021.

“Quite frankly, we need it yesterday,” Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner said last week. “We’re running out of lives, so to speak.”

Even on the most optimistic timeline, the coastal barrier is 10 to 15 years from becoming a reality. With the Houston-Galveston region a perennial target during the Atlantic hurricane season, there is a growing urgency to find a more expedient, cheaper solution.

The Galveston Bay Park Plan, first proposed by the Rice University’s Severe Storm Prediction, Education & Evacuation from Disasters (SSPEED) Center in 2015, includes similar protection features as the coastal spine, but adds a mid-bay barrier island system with a 25-foot wall that would protect the industrial complexes and densely populated areas in the west and northwest sections of Galveston Bay.

Jim Blackburn, an environmental attorney and co-director of the SSPEED Center, says the plan could provide vital protection a lot sooner than the coastal spine, but that it also could complement that barrier. He estimates that if allowed to use dredging spoils from the planned widening of the Houston Ship Channel to build the barrier islands, the project could be completed by 2027 at a fraction of the cost of the coastal spine — an estimated $5 billion to $7 billion.

“You have a coastal defense and that’s your first line of defense and then you come in with your in-bay defense, that is really the one that can protect against your bigger storms,” Blackburn said. “It’s very much almost like thinking in a military sense of how do you defend against an enemy invasion?”

See here and here for some background. I’m of the opinion that we just need to start building something, and that the price tag is a mirage, because the federal government can absolutely afford this. What we can’t afford is to sit around on our asses until the devastating storm we’ve been warned about for years comes and wipes our unprepared selves right off the map.

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10 Responses to No, seriously, what are we going to do to prepare for the next Hurricane Laura?

  1. David Fagan says:

    “What we can’t afford is to sit around on our asses”

    Join the Fire Department, they’re hiring.

  2. voter_worker says:

    A commenter on a Chronicle thread suggested assigning the project to TxDOT since they are an unstoppable force in getting their projects done. This was made in the context of comparing the limp, hesitant efforts at coastal protection to the 15 year methodical effort by TxDOT that has us on the cusp of implementing the I-45 rebuild.

  3. Andrew says:

    A toll authority entity is usually a better run organization than the CORP or the city planners. Setup a Toll Authority with a plan to make money on the project and the coastal barrier tourist island will move faster.

  4. brad says:

    $32 Billion, is that all?

    Pfff…easily solved financing problem.

    A tax on idiot Texans who believe COVID is hoax, QAnon is real, and who don’t believe that masks & social distancing have any effectiveness as a preventive measure for the pandemic.

    Might bankrupt the Republican party, but that hey that may actually solve 2 problems at the same time.

  5. David Fagan says:

    “Might bankrupt the Republican party, but that hey that may actually solve 2 problems at the same time.”

    Oh, Brad, do you support a one party system?

  6. Flypusher says:

    Everyone with skin in the game should be willing to pony up some $. For example, the Galveston Bay Park Project, I would think that the people who benefit the most are 1) businesses along the Houston Ship Channel 2) property owners in SE Houston, Pasadena, Deer Park, Friendswood, Pearland, Santa Fe, Baytown, Tiki Island, etc. 3) Anyone who wants to enjoy a new park. So let the businesses chip in, have the people in the protected cities vote on bonds to fund the project, and charge a modest fee for use of the park until it’s paid off.

  7. brad says:


    I think the needle on your record player is skipping…it keeps asking the same wearisome question.

  8. C.L. says:

    I can’t think of a more scenic tourist destination that a series of spoil/dredge islands running up through the brown, tepid, toxin-filled water of Galveston Bay, with the pollution spewing petrochemical refineries glowing like Chernobyl to my left and the rust covered Panamanian-flagged tankers churning through the sludge to my right.

    Imagine all the fun family moments ! “Look Maw ! Ain’t that a pretty dolphin washed up on the litter strewn beach !” “Don’t you dare go in that water, Little Johnny !” “No, you dumb ass, you can’t eat the fish !” “Dad, is that (gasp) a body over there ?”

  9. Bill Daniels says:

    I agree with Fly on this one…..the regions that would gain protection from a project like this should get together and pony up the money. I would also be OK with some kind of federal match, since our ship channel petrochem industries are VITAL to national security. I’d actually be OK with a small bump in my property taxes to support a project that might save my home from getting flooded. And if that project lowered my flood risk and lowered my flood insurance premium just a bit, that would be great, too.

  10. brad says:


    I think the region you mean to say would gain protection is the United States, since American citizens, the significant petrochemical, and port facilities are the beneficiaries.

    But if you prefer to do a local bake sale put me down for a dozen chocolate chip cookies.

    I am surprised you didn’t toe the GOP party line and just say that hurricanes would magically go away as they neared, and if they did hit us any problems could resolved with a good dose of ‘thoughts and prayers’.

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