Houston Matters

Early funding cut for Ike Dike project causes a ‘major setback’, expert says

A Republican caucus pushed for the budget cuts, which put Rep. Randy Weber – who is both a member of the Caucus and pushed for Ike Dike funding – in an awkward position.


Fifteen vertical lift gates make up part of the planned gate system stretching across the water between Galveston Island and Bolivar Peninsula.

The U.S. House of Representatives is back in session on Tuesday, facing a looming deadline to fund the government and avoid a shutdown. The House Freedom Caucus has been pressuring House Speaker Kevin McCarthy to push for cuts to that budget. Among the casualties so far are $100 million that Congressman Randy Weber (R – Pearland) pushed for to help fund the Ike Dike, which would help protect the Gulf Coast, the Houston Ship Channel included, from flooding. That funding was not approved earlier this summer through its subcommittee.

It’s an awkward situation for Weber, as he is also a member of the Freedom Caucus, though his office says the HCF supports Ike Dike funding, but they believe funding should be cut for lower-priority projects, like the renaming of parks. It’s also a tough situation for those lobbying to fund flood mitigation projects like the Ike Dike, which has state funding but will need much more federal funding to come to life.

Jim Blackburn is co-director of the Severe Storm Prevention, Education, and Evacuation from Disaster – or SSPEED Center – at Rice University. He joined Houston Matters on Tuesday to discuss the funding.

Congress authorized federal agencies to plan for the $31 billion Ike Dike project, but the money still has to be allocated in every budget. If Congress does not approve the funding it causes a “major setback.”

“The Corp of Engineers has designed what they call the coastal barrier, or the coastal spine,” Blackburn said. “They’ve designed that as a two-phase project. They’ve completed the first phase, but they have a lot of work to do on the second phase. And that’s what this $100 million was going to go to, this next round of studies. Without those, critical design elements will not be able to be completed.”


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Political battles could also lead to Congress cutting more allocations from the Ike Dike, and could prevent it from ever happening, he said.

“We are incredibly vulnerable to a big storm,” he said. “…We’re just waiting to get absolutely hammered from one of these storms, and we have no protection.”

Blackburn said this is a partisan battle that’s ignoring compelling needs.

“We need to get our congressional representatives to refocus on the needs that we have, and addressing the problems out there,” he said. “We can provide a lot of data if somebody wants to receive it. It’s just we’re not finding a willingness to receive it.”

Blackburn added that many don’t anticipate seeing major action until there is another big storm.

“Just simply because it’s hard to focus the attention of the representatives that are, frankly, focused on other things,” he said.

There’s also a disconnect in the caucus when it comes to who is pressing hard for budget cuts. Weber himself is facing that very dilemma.

“It’s hard when you’ve taken a philosophical position to then argue that, ‘You have to change that because it affects my district,'” he said. “It’s in a way what many of these fiscal conservatives are concerned about, the fact that we set aside principles to make concessions for a district. Yet that’s the reality of where we are.”

The Ike Dike project in total is anticipated to be $31 billion, and the allocation that was cut from next year’s budget is $100 million for studies. That represents less than 1/300th of the total cost of the project. Blackburn said the incremental money is needed to justify a large project that is worth pursuing.

“If we don’t get the first steps done, we’ll never get to the second, third, and fourth steps,” Blackburn said. “No one’s asking for $31 billion to construct yet. This is just to get a really good design. This will be probably one of the largest, if not the largest, flood projects in the world.”

This story has been edited to clarify add comment from Weber’s office, and clarify that funding was not approved earlier this year.