A new group might tax you to build the Ike Dyke. Many do not know that they have already started to meet.


Danielle Goshen spent months trying to figure out when and where the new group working on funding the so-called Ike Dike was meeting. The conservationist was eager to find out how the Gulf Coast Protection District would cover the local cost if Congress approved the vast coastal barrier project.

Goshen is a policy specialist and attorney for the National Wildlife Federation. She is anxious to pursue a $29 billion plan with the prospect that the project could cost even more. The proposal calls for the construction of a massive series of gates across the mouth of Galveston Bay and their use before hurricanes to stop storm surges. to push upwards the maritime channel bordered by industry.

The Legislature created the Protection District to find local funding for 35% of the portion of the project being built here – that’s about $10 billion for the barrier systemmaybe by levying taxes. Proponents say the concept is necessary because climate change will likely strengthen winds and rainfall from future storms. Proponents such as Goshen warn that the project will take least 12 years to design and build. All the price is substantial. Goshen isn’t convinced that artificial infrastructure is the right approach.

Harris County is the most populous of the five counties represented by the district, and residents could be responsible for about 85% of that local tax share, which is about a 20% increase in taxes, said Harris County Administrator David Berry in December. Galveston, Chambers, Jefferson, and Orange counties also fall under the district’s jurisdiction.

The costly burden makes it all the more pressing for stakeholders and residents to listen to decision-making, Goshen said.

“The real concern is that they’re not doing enough to make these meetings available to the public and to really get the word out that they’re doing these meetings in the first place,” Goshen said, adding, “We really think it’s imperative that this district have public engagement at the forefront.

Goshen continued to search online for months for meeting information, she said, and found nothing. It wasn’t until the end of the year that someone sent him an agenda.

It turned out that Governor Greg Abbott appointed six directors in June. Each county’s court of commissioners chose an additional council member. The group had been meeting since August. The meetings were open to all and met legal requirements, whether or not they were thoroughly publicized, officials said.

“We’re really trying to get the word out, and our meetings have been well attended, so I think it’s been effective,” said Nicole Sunstrum, district executive director and sole employee. “We definitely not only follow our requirements, but we go above and beyond. I feel like our reach is good and also growing.

Texas law requires government entities to give at least 72 hours notice of their meetings. The District did – but presumably in places where most people don’t normally check. The agendas were posted on the websites of the Harris County Clerk and the Secretary of State. They were also placed on the doors of the venue where the rotating meeting was held that month, Sunstrum said.

Board Chairman Michel Bechtel, who is also mayor of Morgan’s Point on the Houston Ship Channel, said the district is following normal protocol and increasing its social media reach.

“We post everything like we’re supposed to, as far as I know,” he said. “It takes time to get started. We’re starting from scratch, you know.

The newly formed district was slow to do more for the first few months. He now has a website and the email list, but as the pandemic spreads, the group still offers no way for the public to watch the meetings online. It also contains pages on FacebookLinkedIn and Twitter. Goshen, environmental reporter for the Houston Chronicle and environmental advocate, Bayou City Waterkeeper legal director Kristen Schlemmer were her only three Twitter followers.

Schlemmer, like Goshen, was surprised that she couldn’t log into meetings on Zoom. The district would make important decisions regarding large amounts of taxpayers money, and she wanted to follow. She stressed that any tax imposed by the district would have to be approved by voters. And voters should be educated on the basics of how the fundraising district duties, she said.

“It’s such a big signal, such a big potential investment in our flood resilience, in our climate resilience, and I think it’s imperative that people have access to the decision that’s going to affect them both in terms of quality of life, but also in terms of how much tax they pay,” Schlemmer said.

At 10 a.m. Wednesday, the group will meet again at the Bay Area Houston Economic Partnership office in a mall across from NASA’s Johnson Space Center. An agenda was posted as usual on the front door on Tuesday. It might have been visible to those strolling nearby Tutti Frutti for frozen yogurt or to look at the space-themed art cutouts in the median of the mall. Almost everyone has passed it.

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