The $1 trillion infrastructure bill signed by President Joe Biden does not include money for a long-dreamed of flood control project, the Ike Dike. Now, a bipartisan group of members of Congress from Texas is trying to get money allocated to the project.
Houston Chronicle Washington Correspondent Ben Wermund says the Ike Dike project was probably still too early in design phase to be put into the infrastructure bill. But a more concerted effort is taking place to get funds for the project included in the 2022 Water Resources Development Act. This act is a biennial and typically bipartisan bill that funds flood infrastructure projects specifically.
Listen to the interview above or read the transcript below.
This transcript has been edited lightly for clarity:
Texas Standard: Tell us more about this proposal by a group of Texas congresspeople. And who are they exactly?
Ben Wermund: There’s an effort now to try and get authorization for the Ike Dike. It’s called in a bill that Congress approves every two years. It’s a massive water resources bill and that’s going to be coming up again next year for approval from Congress. And so, the Texas delegation is gearing up to try and get the authorization for this in that bill. The Army Corps of Engineers, which is sort of designing the project, also hopes to get it in that. So we’re kind of finally getting to major sort of starting point for this effort.
So far nothing’s been built, and perhaps that has to do with money. What’s the price tag for such an ambitious project?
It’s a $29 billion project, so it’s obviously not going to be cheap. And you know, money is going to probably be the biggest hurdle here. The members of the delegation I’ve spoken to are pretty confident they’ll be able to get the project authorized through this water bill, but that won’t include the funding for it. That’s going to be the next step and the federal government’s expected to kick in something like $18 billion for this. So there’s going to be a whole other effort to try to get that money after this authorization happens. And that’s kind of where members of the delegation are saying the real struggle is going to be.
I wonder, though, if this does mark a kind of a watershed moment in the conversation about this in the sense that perhaps this is the most concerted effort we’ve seen yet from Texas lawmakers to get the wheels rolling?
Well, as Senator John Cornyn said, this is kind of a marathon to get any sort of major project like this done. There was an effort to get some funding for this type of project, this type of resiliency project in the big infrastructure bill that Congress passed, that didn’t exactly happen. So now you’ve got a pretty concerted effort that probably most of the delegation is going to get behind to get it into this water bill, which really is a lot of members argue, the more appropriate vehicle for this anyway.
I’m a little surprised it wasn’t in the infrastructure bill – that we’re talking about putting it in a water bill. Could you explain why it wasn’t part of that infrastructure plan?
The way the infrastructure bill was set up is that it basically funds a bunch of different types of projects and then states go out for competitive grants to get funding for those projects. And there are some parts that potentially could offer up funding for this type of thing. But honestly, this project is just almost too far off at this point. It still needs to be authorized, which is what this water bill would do. And then the funding is just going to be a different issue. But the infrastructure bill does include funding for the Army Corps, which is leading this project, and some of that potentially could help. Some of it is directed at the Army Corps backlog, which is massive. It’s like $100 billion worth of projects. So it could help in that way as well.
What about a timeline? There’s a sense of urgency getting this done as we see more and more storms in the Gulf.
There’s definitely a sense of urgency, but at the same time, we’re talking about the federal government, so nothing moves too quickly. But if this does get authorized the end of the year, I think that will probably pick things up quite a bit in terms of getting it done, although it’s still going to be competing with the other Army Corps projects. And like I said, there is a big backlog of those. So it could be years. It sounds like there isn’t really a definite timeline. It’s definitely it will be a while, for sure.