Energy & Environment

Ike Dike project still hunting for federal money after House declines funding request

The House Appropriations Committee did not grant a $100 million funding request made by U.S. Rep. Randy Weber of Galveston, but Congress could still allocate money this year to the long-planned storm surge suppression system. How soon the project secures federal funding will determine how quickly work can begin.

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Galveston Seawall
File photo
The Coastal Texas project, commonly known as the Ike Dike, has been in the works since Hurricane Ike devastated Galveston in 2008.

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers stands ready to start work on the "Ike Dike," a long-planned storm surge suppression system that would protect the Houston region and its massive petrochemical industry from the impacts of a powerful hurricane.

The $34 billion project just needs federal funding, which may or may not come this year.

The Army Corps and Gulf Coast Protection District, which is the non-federal sponsor of the initiative, are hopeful that Congress provides initial federal funding as part of its budgeting for Fiscal Year 2024. That prospect hit a hurdle late last month when the House Committee on Appropriations decided not to grant a $100 million funding request from U.S. Rep. Randy Weber, a Republican from Galveston.

Sally Bakko, who serves on the board for the Gulf Coast Protection District and also is the director of policy and governmental relations for the City of Galveston, said the project could still receive funding from Congress this year. The Senate Committee on Appropriations has yet to make its determinations, and Bakko said funding could also be provided through a supplemental appropriations bill or perhaps as part of the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law.

"There are a lot of things that can happen," she said. "Am I saying we stand a good chance? I'm not going to go that far. I'm just saying it ain't over ‘til it's over."

Even if Congress does not provide funding this year for the Coastal Texas project, as it is called by the Army Corps and Gulf Coast Protection District, it will not be over, either. The initiative was theorized after Hurricane Ike devastated the Galveston area in 2008 and was authorized by federal lawmakers in December of last year, after the Army Corps and Texas General Land Office spent six years and $20 million on a feasibility study for the Ike Dike.

The plan is to construct a series of gates between Galveston Island and Bolivar Peninsula, which serves as the entryway into the Houston Ship Channel, along with additional gate systems in Clear Lake and Dickinson Bay, beach-and-dune systems on Bolivar and Galveston and a ring barrier on the bay side of the island. Anticipated to take at least a decade to complete, the work is expected to block up to 22 feet of hurricane storm surge into the bay and up the ship channel, thereby providing flooding protections to homes, businesses and the nation’s largest petrochemical complex.

Ike Dike Gates Rendering
Courtesy of U.S. Army Corps of Engineers/Texas General Land Office
Fifteen vertical lift gates make up part of the planned gate system stretching across the water between Galveston Island and Bolivar Peninsula.

Nicole Sunstrum, the executive director of the Gulf Coast Protection District, said in June that environmental and design work were on the verge of getting underway, pending a funding allocation from the federal government. The Texas Legislature this year allocated another $550 million toward the Ike Dike project and a similar initiative, through its general appropriations bill.

Bakko acknowledged that a lack of federal funding this year could delay the overall timeline of the project, which will receive 65 percent of its funding from the federal government and 35 percent from the state of Texas, according to Sunstrum. Both Bakko and Sunstrum said Monday that the Gulf Coast Protection District, created by the Texas Legislature in 2021, already is exploring funding sources for Fiscal Year 2025.

"Unfortunately, the (House) Appropriations Committee did not include the project in FY 2024. We are still awaiting what the Senate Appropriations Committee includes in this year’s Energy and Water Development bill," Weber said in a statement. "I will continue to push for the Texas Coastal Project, which will ensure our coastline has the necessary infrastructure to help protect against future storms, and in return, would protect the millions of people, countless homes and jobs, and numerous refineries.”

Bakko said seeing the project to completion, and securing the necessary funding along the way, will be a "marathon." At the same time, there also is a sense of urgency along the Texas Gulf Coast, where it's been 15 years since Hurricane Ike and six years since Hurricane Harvey, which caused unprecedented flooding in the Houston region.

The key to getting Congress to consistently allocate money toward the initiative, according to Bakko, is relaying that sense of urgency to the rest of the country. What happens in and around the Houston Ship Channel impacts supply chains across the U.S. and the world, she said.

"I think helping members of Congress, and particularly appropriators, understand the national economic value of this project is what will help us advance this project," Bakko said. "In other words, it's going to be more expensive for Congress not to do this project than it will be for them to do this project."

Adam Zuvanich

Adam Zuvanich

Digital Content Producer

Adam Zuvanich writes locally relevant digital news stories for Houston Public Media. He grew up in the Houston area and earned a journalism degree from the University of Texas before working as a sportswriter in Austin, Lubbock, Odessa, St. Louis and San Antonio. Zuvanich returned home to Houston and made...

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