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Coast’s good news: Help is on the way

 

The good news for Southeast Texans this week was that the last congressional hurdle was cleared for sending substantial money here for the coast’s protection.

U.S. Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, made that announcement midweek and County Judge Jeff Branick suggested the end of the waiting period is near. It may take a year or so to line up contractors and start work, but we have some guarantees.

“As Texas communities continue to rebuild from Hurricane Harvey and prepare for future storms,” Cornyn said in preparing to vote for some $4 billion in coastal aid, “it is critical we take these steps to ensure the coastal region can better withstand major weather events.” Darn right.

That’s because you can bank on this: There will be major weather events on the Texas coastline. There always have been.

But the $3.9 billion headed this way is meant in great part to bolster and build protective barriers including levees in key areas in Jefferson County. That includes along the Sabine Neches Waterway up toward Port Neches, where bluffs provide some natural protection.

How does Congress love us? Let us count the ways — all the way to about $800 million, Branick said. Flood protection projects will include new protection along Highway 73 near the Total Refinery and BASF. Funding came through the America’s Water Infrastructure Act, which Cornyn praised during a weekly call with Texas reporters Thursday.

It’s all part of the Sabine Pass-to-Galveston Bay Coastal Storm Risk Management and Ecosystem Restoration plan, a title so long we’ll stop this sentence here from sheer exhaustion. That plan will deliver upgrades and more to some 30 miles of existing levees in Port Arthur and Freeport, and 27 new miles of levees in southern Orange County. The plan has some history — it was conceived in 2004, before Hurricanes Katrina and Rita — and it remained under study in 2008 by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers when Hurricane Ike took savage aim on the Texas coastline.

It’s something short of the “Ike Dike,” a plan which would have been more extensive but more costly, but it’s plenty enough to please locals on the upper end of the coast — those locals are us.

It’s money that’s approved, too, despite more deadly and costly storms that have laid waste to portions of U.S. shorelines and islands since Harvey. It’s worth a mention because the Texas coast now has competitors for federal help from other unlucky, storm-affected locations — Puerto Rico, the Carolinas and now Florida.

So don’t let people tell you storm-affected Texas has been ignored. The Texas General Land Office, local governments and others have done some painstaking work to set up this region for help.

It’s not all we need, but it’s on the way.