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Texas Coastal Study

SHAPING SUSTAINABILITY – GALVESTON DISTRICT

BY MELANIE ELLIS

The Coastal Texas Protection and Restoration Feasibility Study, also known as the Coastal Texas Study, proposes innovative engineering solutions to ensure long-term resilience of the entire Texas coast.

The more than 100-person study team is led by a multi-discipline staff from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE), in partnership with staff from the Texas General Land Office (GLO), and collaboration with subject-matter experts and engineering, environmental, and public outreach consultants from across the region.

Aerial rendering of what the proposed Ring Barrier System – part of the larger Coastal Texas Program –would look like.

Aerial rendering of what the proposed Ring Barrier System – part of the larger Coastal Texas Program –would look like.

GRAPHIC BY MELANIE ELLIS

The Coastal Texas Study identifies coastal storm risk management measures that protect the health and safety of Texas coastal communities by reducing the risk of storm damage to industries and businesses critical to the nation’s economy while simultaneously addressing critical coastal ecosystems in need of restoration.

The Coastal Texas Study was authorized in 2007 to identify and evaluate a comprehensive plan for the restoration and conservation of wetlands, barrier islands, shorelines, and related lands and features that protect critical resources, habitat, and infrastructure from the impacts of coastal storms, erosion, and subsidence.

In 2015, the GLO was identified as the non-federal sponsor and funding to initiate the study was received. With such an expansive study underway, the team solicited a contractor to assist the with communications and to develop a strategy for expansive, effective public outreach to fully engage with the public. The contractor also assisted the team in creating information products that included 3D renderings and various printed materials to visually tell the story in a graphic manner.

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The study team engaged the public through a variety of mediums to transparently communicate the scope and scale of the team’s recommended plan to the local communities. The team established a website (https://www. coastalstudy.texas.gov) solely dedicated to the study that included project history, fact sheets, study time lines, meeting information, and project storyboards. Utilizing contract support, the team agreed on a set of engagement rules, supporting website content, and printed materials to ensure consistency. These efforts allow the public to have a more comprehensive understanding of the study.

To ensure consistent delivery of information, the team created an introductory video shown at each public meeting that guided participants through the overall study, status of the study, and commenting process. During the project delivery effort, the COVID-19 pandemic forced the study team to adapt its outreach efforts.

Renderings with details of what the proposed Coastal Texas Ring Barrier system would look like.

Renderings with details of what the proposed Coastal Texas Ring Barrier system would look like.

GRAPHIC BY MELANIE ELLIS

The first step was to develop a GIS-based “Story Map” that used Environmental Systems Research Institute (ESRI) technology to animate the complicated concepts discussed in the recommended plan, thus allowing the public to: 1) see the difference in flooding the project could make in the Houston and Galveston areas; 2) experience a virtual landscape with the proposed beach and dune systems in place; and 3) examine potential environmental impacts and review our proposed mitigation plan (https://coastal-texas-hub-usace-swg.hub.arcgis.com/). The team then hosted a series of Q&A sessions utilizing the story maps to engage the public and convey the benefits and costs of the proposed plan.

To set a standard of transparent communications and build trust with the community, the virtual meetings were hosted at recurring times, using the same meeting platform, and offering a standard contact number. This ensured the community knew when and where to receive information and were given the opportunity to provide feedback and engage with the team one on one. Using a trained communications contractor to facilitate the meetings allowed the study team to focus on engaging with the public and ensured all participants had a solid understanding of the project and the path forward.

Lt. Gen. Scott Spellmon, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers commanding general and 55th U.S. Army chief of engineers, signed the Chief’s Report for the “Coastal Texas Protection and Restoration Study” (the Coastal Texas Study) on Sept. 16, 2021. The report was a compilation of USACE and GLO, based on public input.

Above and below: District Office with and without project improvements: A demonstration of the Story Map feature showing the impacts of a 100-year flood with and without project improvements. Site visitors can plug in their address and see the impacts to their property and surrounding areas.

Above and below: District Office with and without project improvements: A demonstration of the Story Map feature showing the impacts of a 100-year flood with and without project improvements. Site visitors can plug in their address and see the impacts to their property and surrounding areas.

GRAPHIC BY MELANIE ELLIS

GRAPHIC BY MELANIE ELLIS

Over the summer of 2022, legislators introduced the Texas Coastal Spine Authorization Act, which passed in the U.S. Senate on July 28, to make coastal Texas eligible for construction. The U.S. House of Representatives is in the midst of passing its own version of the act, and once it does, legislators will work to secure funding for the project and then begin construction.

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