I am very happy that Houston Mayor Annise Parker has joined the call for storm surge protection.
“To protect the vast economic engine that sustains us, it is time for all of us in this region to come together and take concrete steps to create storm protections for our coastal communities, whether the Centennial Gate or the Ike Dike," Parker said in her inaugural address on Thursday.
Later in the day at a news conference she elaborated, stressing that she does not want to be in charge of the project.
"Somebody has to step up and say, 'Let's convene a meeting'," Parker said. "I have enough to say grace over, but someone has to step up."
Well, admittedly progress has been slow since Dr. William Merrell of Texas A&M University at Galveston first called for a coastal spine similar to the Delta Project in Holland back in 2008, just days after Hurricane Ike; but there has been some movement.
Merrell’s proposal, now known as the Ike Dike, would enhance the existing Galveston Seawall, which was built after the 1900 Storm, extending it to San Luis Pass on the western end of Galveston Island and to High Island on the eastern end of the Bolivar Peninsula – with Dutch style storm gates at the entrance to the Houston-Galveston Ship Channel and at San Luis Pass.
Merrell's 2008 Column
The Rice University Severe Storm Prediction, Education and Evacuation from Disasters (SSPEED) Center has proposed a competing project, consisting of a storm gate, known as the Centennial Gate, south of the Fred Hartman Bridge; and development of the proposed Lone Star Coastal National Recreation Area along the Bolivar coast. SSPEED Center
Texas Governor Rick Perry created the six county Gulf Coast Protection and Recovery District to study the feasibility of storm surge prevention. Harris County Judge Ed Emmett and the county judges of Brazoria, Galveston, Chambers, Jefferson and Orange counties are members of the committee and have participated in several meetings. Former Harris County judge Robert Eckels is president of the district. The Texas General Land Office has committed almost $4 million to the feasibility study process.
The Bay Area Houston Economic Partnership has sponsored meetings on the issue as well, citing the need for regional cooperation.
Representatives of the Dutch government have made themselves available and have been present at several meetings I have attended in Texas and Louisiana.
Dutch technology was put to use on the Greater New Orleans Hurricane and Storm Damage Risk Reduction System that was installed by the United States Army Corps of Engineers in just two and one-half years following Hurricane Katrina.
The New Orleans project, which carried a price tag similar to the anticipated cost of the Ike Dike, is an example of what can be done in a relatively short period of time, if political entities work together.
My concern is that turf wars may hamper or block progress on the Texas Gulf Coast.
Texas A&M and Rice University are at odds on the way to proceed. My preference is the Ike Dike, which would prevent a storm surge from entering Galveston Bay and the Houston Ship Channel, but the SSPEED Center’s storm gate up the channel, and its proposed coastal recreational area has merit. Dr. Merrell is concerned that the Centennial Gate, which would not protect Galveston Island at all, would cause additional flooding of the mainland south of the gate; but Rice scientists say that problem can be mitigated.
I hope that the academicians can reason together and agree on a project.
I hope also that the elected officials in the region will work together to avoid more delay.
I have been impressed with the cooperation between Mayor Parker and Judge Emmett, who both run very efficient governments. They stand side by side at news conferences during hurricane emergencies, showing solidarity when it really counts.
But, I have witnessed the chaos and near disaster when the former mayor of Galveston disregarded input from other elected officials, violating established operating procedures prior to Hurricane Ike, and waited too late to call for an orderly evacuation.
Thus, I hope that Mayor Parker’s statement that "somebody has to step up and say, 'Let's convene a meeting'," is not a sign of division on this issue between Houston City Hall and the Harris County Courthouse.
The six county district has had several meetings. Progress has been slow and perhaps Mayor Parker’s entry into the discussion now can jump-start the process.
I surely hope so.
The city of Houston and the petrochemical industry along the Houston Ship Channel are too important to the future of the Texas Gulf Coast and the security of the United States to let political turf wars delay this project.