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November 7, 2017 Elections
Forum
Guidry News Forum
Why We Should Support the Ike Dike Concept
by Dr. William Merrell, George Mitchell Chair, Texas A&M University at Galveston
Friday, June 30, 2017

The Galveston Bay region desperately needs protection from hurricane-induced storm surge soon.  Engineered storm barriers are the only solutions that can accomplish this, and the coastal spine/Ike Dike concept is by far the best and most widely supported approach.

Surge suppression for Houston/Galveston is an imperative not a nicety.  The upper Texas Coast is hit by a major hurricane about every 15 years.  It’s not a matter of if, but when, the next one hits.  Rita, in 2005, was our last major hurricane missing Galveston Bay, but prompting an evacuation that killed 108 people. 

On September 13, 2008, Ike, a category two storm, passed directly over Galveston and on to Houston causing damage of over $30 billion.  Although those of us who lived through Ike think of it as a devastating storm, it could have been much worse.  The forecast track placed Ike’s landfall to the west of Galveston forcing the maximum winds and surge over the Island and up the ship channel.  Had Ike stayed on this forecast track, hitting west of Galveston, the storm damages would have been about $100 Billion and thousands would have died instead of the dozens who lost their lives during Ike.  These are the true facts.

Surge barriers such as those long-used in Europe and now newly constructed in New Orleans provide proven defense against storm surge.  A properly designed, constructed and maintained surge barrier will work for the Galveston/Houston region.  Massive hurricane storm surges in Galveston Bay can be a thing of the past.

Recently some arguments have resurfaced claiming that natural barriers, wetlands and/or conservation easements would provide adequate protection.  It simply isn’t true.  Careful scientific modeling and experience shows they provide little protection against large storms.  If natural barriers didn’t work against Ike’s surge, and they didn’t, there is no reason to believe that they would work in the future.  Meanwhile since Ike, the Houston-Galveston region has increased both its population and infrastructure near the coast and relative sea level has increased.  Like the rest of the world, we are moving towards the coast and the seas are rising to greet us.  And, like the rest of the world, we need to look at proven engineered solutions for our protection.  But what should the surge barrier look like?  

Texas A&M University at Galveston, working with its research partners, Delft Technical University in the Netherlands and Jackson State University, with the Homeland Security Coastal Resilience Center of Excellence, has developed a coastal spine concept that suppresses storm surge in the entire Galveston Bay region – the Ike Dike.  The Ike Dike intercepts the surge at the coast and extends the protection afforded by Galveston’s seawall.  This is done through the placement of sand-covered revetments on the Island’s west end and on the Bolivar Peninsula.  Bolivar Roads and San Luis pass are only sealed during storms by closing flood gates.  The Ike Dike leaves no one in the Galveston Bay region ÔÇčoutside and unprotected.”

Our research and that of others, notably the 6-county Gulf Coast Community Protection and Recovery District, shows the coastal spine approach is technically feasible, economically and environmentally sound and socially just.  Certainly more research and detailed work is necessary to develop the best design that fits into our upper Texas coastal fabric and provides the greatest benefits for the region, but the basic concept is sound and widely supported.

This inclusive concept has been endorsed by 29 cities around the Bay and numerous civic and economic development organizations.  The Texas Legislature set up a joint Senate/House committee to study it and passed a resolution asking the U.S. Congress to advance the concept nationally.  Recently, Texas Land Commissioner George P. Bush sent a letter to President Donald Trump, cosigned by 63 mayors, county officials and prominent citizens from the Galveston Bay region, proposing that such a coastal spine be included in the President’s Infrastructure Initiative.

With the grave threat to our region, the 9th anniversary of Ike, the 12th anniversary of Rita, and with a viable widely supported concept for surge suppression available, we should be doing everything possible to support Commissioner Bush as he works to protect all of us from storm surge.




Remembering Jim Guidry GRCC Bay Area Houston Economic Partnership


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