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Coastal levee effort clears last hurdle in Congress

By Ken Stickney

ken.stickney@panews.com

A $4 billion hurricane and storm damage risk reduction project that will bolster some levees and build others — many in Jefferson and Orange counties — cleared the U.S. Senate on Wednesday, the last congressional approval before the shovels turn.

“Protecting our coast from storm damage means protecting Texans, our communities, and our well-being,” U.S. Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, said in an issued statement. “I’m grateful we’re one step closer toward breaking ground on this much-needed project.”

Project funding was included in the federal Bipartisan Budget Act, signed into law in February. The funds approved in the budget will aid a total of six coastal counties. But much of the money will go to Jefferson and Orange counties, including up much of the Neches River.

County Judge Jeff Branick said some $800 million will be spent in Jefferson County, with money allocated for, among other improvements, construction of flood mitigation projects near the Total refinery on Highway 73. He said the project will require a local match — he’s talked with state officials about that — and as many as 27 agencies must sign off on the permit.

He said that process and procurement — finding contractors to handle the work — may take a year or more. But the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers have signed off on a report and the basic plan has been studied for years.

“I’m excited about it,” he said.

Authorization for the Sabine Pass to Galveston Bay Project was approved under the America’s Water Infrastructure Act, approved Wednesday.

Cornyn said the Sabine to Galveston Bay project would involve work on 4,000 square miles of South Texas.

“As Texas communities continue to rebuild from Hurricane Harvey and prepare for future storms, it’s critical we take these steps to ensure the coastal region can better withstand major weather events,” he said.

He said the bill would put Texas “one step closer” to completing “these projects and others.”