Glenn Hegar
Texas Comptroller of Public Accounts
Glenn Hegar
Texas Comptroller of Public Accounts
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Glenn Hegar
Texas Comptroller of Public Accounts
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infrastructureGulf Coast Protection District Prepares for Future Storms

District underscores hurricanes are not simply a coastal problem

May 2024 | Spencer Grubbs and Jess Donald

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The Galveston Bay Storm Surge Barrier System represents one of three major projects under the Coastal Texas Project.

Nearly seven years after Hurricane Harvey made landfall on the Texas coast, killing dozens of Texans and wreaking havoc on the state economy, officials are working to strengthen the resiliency of the coast against the next terrible storm.

Hurricane Harvey stands as the second costliest hurricane in U.S. history, causing an estimated $158.8 billion in damage (PDF), according to the National Centers for Environmental Information. Much of this damage resulted from storm surge, or the rapid and excessive rise in seawater level.

Powerful hurricanes like Harvey that bring destruction and loss of life drive home the importance of the federally authorized Coastal Texas Project.

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Nicole Sunstrum,
Executive Director
Gulf Coast Protection District

As a long-term risk management and coastal resiliency plan for the most vulnerable sections of the Texas coastline, the project includes new storm mitigation infrastructure and ecosystem restoration in the Houston-Galveston coastal region — one of the nation’s largest social and economic hubs — that are sponsored by the Gulf Coast Protection District (GCPD).

Fiscal Notes staff spoke with GCPD executive director Nicole Sunstrum and board member Sally Bakko to learn more about this special purpose district and how it’s working to defend Texans and industry supply chains along the upper Gulf coast from catastrophic storm surge.

Fiscal Notes: What can you tell us about the Coastal Texas Project?

GCPD: The Coastal Texas Project is a U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (Corps) project that will use multiple lines of defense and methods of storm surge suppression along our state’s coast, including heavy infrastructure like pump systems and levees, as well as natural features like beach and dune systems.

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Sally Bakko,
Board Member
Gulf Coast Protection District

The Galveston Bay Storm Surge Barrier System represents one of three major projects under the Coastal Texas Project, and it’ll make up most of the estimated $34.4 billion price tag of the program (Exhibit 1). One part of the barrier, the Bolivar Roads Gate System, will be the biggest infrastructure project in U.S. history. The gate system, which is designed to stop storm surge and protect the people and communities of the region, is the economic engine of this project. It’s also the form of protection that will mean the most to the rest of Texas and the nation because of the reduction of damage to the energy and petrochemical industries that support critical economic supply chains.

The Galveston Bay barrier system will ultimately pay for itself when you consider the total cost of past hurricanes, like Harvey and Ike.

Exhibit 1: Galveston Bay Storm Surge Barrier System, Estimated Costs

Funding Source Amount (Billions)
Federal Share $19.41
Non-Federal Share $11.79
Total Cost of Galveston Bay Storm Surge Barrier System Cost $31.20
Total Cost of Coastal Texas Project $34.38
Share of Galveston Barrier System of Total Coastal Texas Project Cost 90.75%

Note: Non-federal share funds are state funds appropriated by the Texas Legislature.
Source: The Coastal Texas Project, Galveston Bay

FN: Where does the GCPD come in?

GCPD: The Legislature created the GCPD to be a non-federal sponsor of the Galveston Bay Storm Surge Barrier System, including the gate system.

The GCPD is a five-county special purpose district that includes all of Harris County — the most populous county in Texas and the third most populous county in the U.S. — and Galveston, Chambers, Jefferson and Orange counties. It's nearly 5,500 square miles with about 5.5 million people, so it's very large for a local government entity.

FN: How is the Texas General Land Office (GLO) involved?

GCPD: The GLO is also a non-federal sponsor. While GCPD will be overseeing the hard infrastructure like the gate system, the GLO will have primary responsibility for the Coastwide Ecosystem Restoration Plan components of the Coastal Texas Project. These components include restoring degraded ecosystems that buffer communities and critical industry along the Texas coast, including restoration of beaches, dunes, marshes and islands, as well as the creation of oyster reefs and breakwaters. The GLO is also the lead for the third major Coastal Texas Project, the South Padre Island Beach Nourishment Project, which will provide storm surge protection for South Padre Island in the form of beach and dune restoration and enhancement. This nature-based feature provides ecosystem and recreational benefits while reducing storm surge risk.

Both GLO and GCPD are working on the state’s behalf with the federal government to implement the Coastal Texas Project. The GLO works with the Corps for the ecosystem restoration pieces, while GCPD partners with the Corps for the infrastructural pieces. The GLO also provides funding and oversight to GCPD for its operations, administration and implementation of the district’s coastal infrastructure projects.

FN: How do storms impact the state’s biggest industries like oil and gas?

GCPD: When you consider that 40 percent of the world's oil supply is used in the petrochemical industry, and those petrochemicals are used to manufacture products like clothing, electronics, consumer goods, fertilizer and semiconductors, and then you narrow that down to our region — the upper Texas Gulf Coast — where we produce more than 40 percent of those basic chemicals, you begin to see how events impacting this region could have a significant effect on what businesses and manufacturers rely on to operate. And it’s not just statewide but nationwide.

With respect to alternative energy, the Houston area has been designated as one of seven “hydrogen hubs” around the country, with the Department of Energy investing $1.2 billion.

FN: How do these storms impact the tourism industry?

GCPD: Texas produces 60 percent of the nation’s aviation fuel. In 2022, travel spending in Texas reached $81.9 billion and generated $5.2 billion in state and local tax revenues, and the travel industry placed eighth in employment ranking. For Galveston, the tourism industry is responsible for one out of three jobs on the Island, and just last year, we hosted more than 8 million tourists. The Port of Galveston is currently negotiating an operating agreement to build a fourth cruise line terminal.

So, when a severe storm grinds tourism to a halt for a long period, our state, regional and local economies take a massive hit.

FN: How will the Galveston Bay Storm Surge Barrier System be funded?

GCPD: The project has been authorized by Congress, and we're pursuing federal funding to get the project started.

The Texas Legislature has already recognized that these supply chain protections are essential and has appropriated funding through the GLO. We have been working to get Congress to recognize that as well. We hope the Coastal Texas Project will receive some of the additional funding Congress appropriated to the Corps for fiscal 2024 that the administration may distribute soon.

The real money comes from the Corps construction account. To compete for that money, we must have what’s called a “new start designation,” and to have a new start designation, we need to get through the preliminary engineering design. The shovel-ready ecosystem restoration projects that the GLO is overseeing are the fastest ways to a new start designation because they can be posted for bids more quickly than the larger infrastructure projects.   

GCPD is prepared and able to match this amount because of funds previously appropriated by the Legislature.

FN: What are the stakes if we don’t build the barrier system?

GCPD: Seventy-three percent of our goods are moved via trucking. If we were to experience what Louisiana experienced in 2020, with two storms in six weeks only 12 miles apart, that would have a devastating impact not just on daily life but on the environment, business operations and supplies. Our most important supply chain is the human supply chain, or the folks who operate the product supply chains. They need to be protected from storms, or at least be given the tools to recover faster. Ports of entry are the backbone of today’s globalized economy.

The central message we want to convey is that coastal storm surge protection is not just a regional problem. Houston-Galveston is a region of the state where supply chains originate and benefit manufacturers, businesses and farmers across Texas and across the country. When you consider the amount of global trade that flows through the infrastructure on the Texas coast, that's when you see the true costs of failing to address this issue. This is clearly an issue of national, and even global, proportions.

More information is available on the GCPD’s website. Stay tuned for additional coverage from the Comptroller’s office on the Coastal Texas Project.