Texas had a near miss last month. Contrary to earlier projections, Hurricane Laura brought significantly less damage than anticipated. Had the storm shifted slightly west, our communities would be devastated like those of our Louisiana neighbors. Had it moved more slowly, the rainfall and storm surge could have rivaled that of Hurricane Harvey.

Truth be told we were lucky this time, but next time we may not be. When the next major storm barrels toward Texas’ coastline, we can’t just bank on luck – we need to ensure preparation is on our side. 

U.S. Sen. John Cornyn
U.S. Sen. John Cornyn

More than 15 years ago – long before Hurricane Laura, Harvey, or even Ike – the idea for a massive flood mitigation project along Texas’ Gulf Coast was conceived. The Sabine Pass to Galveston Bay project spans nearly 4,000 square miles from Brazoria County to Orange County. It would fortify aging levee systems, build new ones, replace bridges, renovate dams, and widen channels to keep our communities safe from heavy rain and storm surge. Despite the clear need and ongoing work by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (Corps), federal, state, and local leaders to get this project under construction, one critical hurdle remained: funding. Two years ago, I helped change that.

Following Hurricane Harvey, I fought to provide our state with the funding and resources to not only sustain response and recovery efforts, but also invest in mitigation projects to withstand future disasters. The Bipartisan Budget Act of 2018, the third disaster aid bill passed after Hurricane Harvey, made a huge investment in flood and storm surge mitigation projects along Texas’ Gulf Coast. I helped ensure this legislation included the full amount needed to complete this project – $3.9 billion – and later fought to authorize it.

Today, the Sabine Pass to Galveston Bay project is in the Pre-Construction Engineering and Design phase, the final step before construction, and is estimated to be completed by 2026 – four years sooner than previously expected. Last month, Orange County voted to move into the design phase with the Corps, bringing a critical portion closer to fruition.

This project is critical to our flood and storm surge mitigation efforts, but it’s not the only one. The Corps is also conducting a Coastal Texas Study with the Texas General Land Office to provide a comprehensive strategy for flood mitigation and coastal protection along other parts of our coast. As we’ve learned, time is of the essence and I’ve consistently fought to expedite this project by removing burdensome roadblocks, and providing much-needed funding to keep the study on track. 

Even though it took three government funding bills, we finally secured the full amount needed for the study in 2018. It should be completed around April 2021, and once the plan is final, it will be submitted to Congress for authorization and funding. When that happens, I’ll be ready to fight alongside other members of the Texas delegation to strengthen Texas’ coast as soon as possible.

Two weeks ago, when I surveyed areas impacted by Hurricane Laura with Governor Greg Abbott, Lieutenant Governor Dan Patrick, and Senator Ted Cruz, the Governor didn’t mince words in saying, “We dodged a bullet.” The question isn’t if that next bullet will come, but when, and how ready we will be. With these projects, Texas will be stronger, safer, and better prepared for whatever Mother Nature sends our way.

Editor’s Note: The above guest column was penned by U.S. Senator John Cornyn. It first appeared in the Beaumont Enterprise. It appears in The Rio Grande Guardian with the permission of the author.

Editor’s Note: The main image accompanying the above guest column shows the impact of Hurricane Hanna in Corpus Christi, Texas. It hit the South Texas coast as a Category 1 hurricane last month before weakening to a tropical storm overnight. (Photo credit: Tamir Kalifa for The New York Times)

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