PORT LAVACA – Stacy Kirkham caught a 90-pound blacktip shark in the Intracoastal Waterway after Hurricane Harvey.
But that’s about the only fond memory the Seadrift resident has of the hurricane that decimated her new home.
Tuesday, she and other coastal residents mulled over a plan to protect them from future hurricanes.
Right now, the plan calls for placing breakwaters to reduce erosion along about five miles of shoreline between Matagorda and Keller bays, creating two miles of oyster reefs along the western reaches of Keller Bay and restoring five miles of estuarine marsh along Matagorda Bay shoreline in the Powderhorn Lake area.
“I’m thrilled at what they’re doing,” Kirkham, 52, said of the Army Corps of Engineers and the Texas General Land Office, which each paid for about half of a $19.8 million study necessary to come up with the plan. “I wanted to make sure that it would work well with our animals and birds.”
Kelly Burks-Copes, the project manager at the Corps, said the study was actually prompted by Hurricane Ike, which made landfall on Galveston Island in 2008, and not Harvey.
“This plan is not designed to address the rainfall that Harvey brought with it,” she said.
Instead, it addresses storm surge between 9 and 17 feet.
Hurricane Ike brought with it a 17-foot storm surge on the Bolivar Peninsula and forced the evacuation of up to 1.5 million residents, according to the Harris County Flood Control District. In contrast, Hurricane Harvey caused a storm surge between 3 and 10 feet in Calhoun County, according to the National Weather Service.
The feature of the plan that will probably receive the most attention is the fact that both agencies are calling for levees, flood walls, surge gates, pump stations, house raisings and buyouts along the upper coast of Texas.
They are not calling for that here.
“You already have pretty good protection,” Burks-Copes said of Calhoun County in particular, “but also the Corps has to make decisions based on three factors: whether it’s engineeringly feasible, whether it’s economically justified and whether it’s environmentally acceptable. It’s the ‘economically justified’ that probably precluded us from building a big system down here because there’s not a huge amount of industry or community to protect like there is in Houston.”
The agencies are receiving comments about the plan now and have about two more years to tweak it before sending it to Congress. Congress isn’t expected to hand over the entire $32 billion it may cost to implement the plan at once, which means Calhoun County’s piece of it may be as much as a decade away from completion.
All of this is being done while others at the Corps are studying whether widening and deepening the Matagorda Ship Channel is feasible and while others at the GLO work on a “Coastal Resiliency Master Plan” and combat erosion piecemeal with money the Texas Legislature allocates every two years.
Tony Williams, the environmental review coordinator for the GLO, said the Legislature must also decide how to pay for this plan, which may cost up to $32 billion. Texas will be responsible for paying 35 percent of construction.
“That needs to be addressed in the upcoming session,” he said.