Dr. William Merrell of Texas A&M University at Galveston weathered Hurricane Ike in the 1870 Merchants Mutual Insurance Building in the Strand Historic District. On Friday, in an interview with Guidry News Service, Merrell recalled the experience and related how the storm surge that covered 75 percent of Galveston Island inspired the Ike Dike, his concept of a coastal spine to protect Galveston Bay. Listen
“We were looking out as the waters rose,” he said. “Water was in the building at about seven feet eight inches. Of course they were about 13 to 14 feet out in the street, running down The Strand.”
The storm surge, and the muddy residue it left, did even more damage to Merrell’s home in the East End Historic District. Thus, he and is wife spent the next 21 months living on the second floor of the downtown building.
“All this didn’t have to happen,” he said, noting the experience of the Dutch in surge prevention. “It made me realize that we didn’t have to go through all the people dying and all the devastation that we had during Ike.”
Since first proposing the Ike Dike in 2008, he said the project has generated some interest, but he continues to promote it through the Coastal Protection Project office at TAMUG.
“It hasn’t gone as far as we would like it, obviously,” Merrell said, while acknowledging some progress. “We’ve been to Holland twice; we’ve had two interns come over from Holland and work with us; we’ve had Dutch engineers here.”
Merrell said he recently visited New Orleans to view the storm surge prevention system that has been built with technical assistance from the Dutch. PowerPoint Presentation
“It’s really a pretty remarkable situation,” he said. “They built 133 miles of barrier to protect New Orleans.”
He said the New Orleans system utilizes flood gates similar to those he proposes for the Texas coast.
Merrrell said the New Orleans system, which cost $14.5 billion, will protect New Orleans from a 100 year storm. The Ike Dike, which will cost about $5 billion, will protect Galveston Bay from a 10,000 year storm.
“It can be leaky, which may make it cheaper,” Merrell said. “With something like that we could expect to build behind it with some assurance of not being wiped out by a surge.”
Merrell notes that a major hurricane hits the Upper Texas coast on the average of every 15 years, and he urges coastal interests to move forward on storm surge protection.
Currently the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers is studying storm surge options as part of the Sabine Pass to Galveston Bay Feasibility Study and a six county committee has been formed by the Governor's Office to study the issue.
“I give an Ike Dike talk every week at least,” he said. “We are trying to get the word out that it is possible to prevent surge here. It is possible and it’s something we really ought to think about very seriously. And I think it’s a very cost effective thing to do also.”