Texas prepares for hurricane season as lawmakers tout coastal protection plan

Texas Politics

AUSTIN (Nexstar) — Bronson and Linda Hamilton are resilient.

In the days after Hurricane Harvey tore the roof off their Rockport, Texas home in the summer of 2017, they immediately started picking up the pieces and began the rebuild.

The Hamiltons, who teach at area schools, spent the next three years and thousands of dollars returning their coastal cavern back to ship shape.

“It’s going to take a long time, it’s going to take a lot of money, a lot of hard work,” Bronson Hamilton said in an interview in what was left of his kitchen a few days after Harvey hit. “But Rockport is going to survive.”

As the state’s coastal communities attempt to return to some kind of normal, state lawmakers attempt to help prevent future storms from causing similar devastation to Harvey, which caused upwards of $125 billion in damage— second only to Hurricane Katrina.

During the regular legislative session, lawmakers passed a bill to create a Gulf Coast Protection District to take charge of planning for and constructing a coastal barrier to protect against storm surge. Senate Bill 1160 also creates framework for approval of coastal projects recommended by the Army Corps of Engineers.

The legislation awaits Governor Greg Abbott’s signature. He can choose to sign it, veto it, or allow it to become law without a signature.

“Living on the coast, you get the advantage of being able to go fish in the ocean a little easier and you got the beautiful sunrises and sunsets,” said State Rep. Travis Clardy, R-Nacogdoches, who serves on the House’s Culture, Recreation & Tourism Committee. “You get the coast vibe, but you also have hurricanes.”

Clardy said Texans who live in Southeast Texas have learned to prepare each year for disasters and bounce back.

“It’s remarkable how well we withstand very strong hurricanes,” he noted.

House Speaker Dade Phelan, a Republican whose Beaumont district often lies within the path of devastating storms, said the state’s legislative investments would strengthen the coast in the future.

“When they give you the list of names of hurricanes… it’s time, right?” Phelan said in a June 1 interview at his Capitol office.

Phelan cited the coastal spine, or “Ike Dike,” legislation as a solution to a decades-long “huge issue.”

Projects like the Ike Dike drew bipartisan backing, and support that crossed regional boundaries.

“We know that these storms impact our state in so many ways, from environmental issues, to economic issues, you know, health and safety issues as well,” State Sen. César Blanco, D-El Paso, said. “So it’s not hard to be supportive of other regions.”

When the calendar flips to June, state agencies kick into gear reminding Texans about the potential for deadly storms.

“It’s all about preparedness,” Texas Land Commissioner George P. Bush said in an interview last week. “Every June 1, we always reach out to constituents [and] remind them to have a plan. Everybody in Texas needs to have a plan, whether it’s for evacuation or taking care of your most trusted documents and belongings, even if you have pets, making sure that they have a plan as well with the local kennel or local shelter because during Hurricane Harvey we saw a massive amounts of pets die because they were neglected during the storm itself, and we had close to 100 deaths in our state.”

Both Bush, who heads the Texas General Land Office, and Seth Christensen, chief of media and communications at the Texas Division of Emergency Management, encouraged Texans to purchase insurance coverage to help recoup losses after damaging storms.

“It takes 30 days for that flood insurance policy to go into effect,” Christensen said. “So buying that flood insurance policy sooner rather than later is very important, especially because we’re now at the beginning of hurricane season and it only takes one storm to damage your home or your property.”

Meantime, the Hamiltons are grateful their Rockport respite is finally finished. Phelan, too, hopes for a quiet summer.

“I have a very resilient constituency, and we just, we get up each morning we put our boots on and we go back to work regardless of Mother Nature sends us,” Phelan said.

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