Harris County on Tuesday agreed to join neighboring counties to study an “Ike Dike” and other ways to protect the Gulf Coast from storms.
But the county did so on its own terms, not those approved by the commissioners courts of five other counties last year.
Forming a Gulf Coast Community Protection and Discovery District would require Brazoria, Chambers, Galveston, Jefferson and Orange counties to adopt the new plan to bring Harris County into the fold.
It was not clear Tuesday whether that will happen.
“Have not seen plan. Was not contacted. All other counties worked together. Will stay open-minded, but will protect interest of Orange County. Lost more homes than Harris County” in Hurricane Ike, Orange County Judge Carl Thibodeaux said in a text message.
Brazoria County Judge E.J. “Joe”King also said he had not seen the plan.
Galveston County Judge James Yarbrough said he has been in touch with Harris County officials and that, based on those conversations, “We won't have any problem approving what Harris County approved.”
If the six counties can agree, the resulting district would serve as the conduit for state money to study such options as a 15-mile seawall along Galveston Island and massive floodgates at the entry to Galveston Bay, a project popularly known as the Ike Dike.
“It's not just about protecting people and their property, but also the Ship Channel,” said Commissioner Sylvia Garcia, who championed the proposal and whose Precinct 2 includes the Port of Houston.
A plan to protect the channel from storm surges gives assurance to international investors that their businesses along the Ship Channel are safe, Garcia said.
Harris County Precinct 3 Commissioner Steve Radack balked at the idea when it first was on the court's agenda in December. He contended that the founding documents could put the county on the hook for big-dollar projects and cede control of local emergency response to a regional behemoth.
Commissioners court kicked the plan back to countyattorneys twice to strip down the scope of the agreement.
The plan approved Tuesday by a vote of 3-1, with Radack opposed, differs from the plan approved by the other five counties in several ways:
• It gives the new district no bonding authority.
• It prohibits the district from usurping any of the county judges' homeland security authority or Flood Control District responsibilities.
• It narrows the scope of the district's purpose to studies and recommendations.
Under Radack's plan, Harris County would not have joined the district but would cooperate on a limited basis with the five-county organization. It would have allowed Harris County to sever the tie with a month's notice with no financial penalty. Under Garcia's plan, the corporation can spend $600,000 a year without an OK from each county's commissioners court.
Garcia said it is important for Harris County to join the district to get a seat on its board through which it can advocate for the county's interests in any studies or projects that result from the partnership.