Paving the Upper Texas Coast

Hurricane Ike, the 3rd most costly hurricane on record devastated the upper Texas coast on September 13, 2008. It was a category 2 hurricane with a category 4 storm surge, 112 people were killed and 26 are still missing. Approximately 3500 houses were destroyed on the Bolivar Peninsula. The massive storm surge flooded the inland town of Bridge City near the Louisiana border, flooding over 3000 more houses. The City of Galveston suffered about $3 Billion in damage. Of the 58,000 residents, 38,000 evacuated before landfall. Approximately 75-80% of the houses in the city were damaged either by wind or water. About 1100 houses were damaged beyond repair and 60 houses on the west end of the island were completely destroyed. About 30% of the population are not yet back in their houses. As the people returned to their empty lots or flooded coastal houses, first on the minds of many people was to “rebuild better and stronger so that this might never happen again.” This is the common response to a natural disaster. Build better? Build stronger? We already have construction and insurance requirements that can withstand hurricane-force winds. We have all seen photos of houses that survived storms. But storm surge and flooding from torrential rains are another issue completely. The latest idea – the “Ike Dike” – a 17 foot high, 60 mile wall, a”fortification” to hold back the Gulf of Mexico. Stretching from High Island (the highest coastal land between Mexico and Florida) to the east and San Luis Pass (the last “natural” pass in Texas) to the west. This fortification would require two “flood-gates” on either end on the Intra-Coastal Waterway, one large flood gate at San Luis Pass, and HUGE flood-gates at the entrance to the the Houston ship channel at the east end of Galveston island. The economic argument seems sound. Hurricane Ike did about $24 Billion in damage and this 60 mile fortification costs only $ 2 to $4 Billion. If you exclude the cost of purchasing over 40 miles of beachfront property, which will certainly be huge. It also ignores the damage to the environment. Galveston Bay is a prolific marine life nursery. The associated wetlands naturally filter contaminants in run-off and provide natural protection from storm surge. This “Ike Dike Fortification” is in the very early stages of planning. Such a massive engineering project would surely take years of study and design before we get to the decades-long construction phase. Four Billion dollars is obviously a “low ball” number. What about the unintended consequences? What will be the damage to the fisheries, oyster beds and shrimp as the water-flow is changed? What about hurricane rainfall, where will the water go? These are just a few questions that must be answered. There will be more in future blogs. The Rice Design Alliance held the second public meeting on August 19 at the Museum of Fine Arts Brown Theater. The panelists were: James Blackburn, Attorney, Blackburn & Carter: adjunct Professor, Environmental Sciences and Engineering Deptartment, Rice University William Merrell, Professor, Marine Sciences, Texas A&M University at Galveston William Kiene, Assoc. Science Coordinator, NOAA National Marine Sanctuaries, Southeast, Gulf of Mexico and Caribbean Region Dr. Merrell designed the Ike Dike, Dr. Kiene designed a much smaller scale levee system that wraps around Galveston Island and encloses only the area now protected by the Galveston Seawall. Jim Blackburn proposed a number of alternative solutions that included limited fortification construction, protection of the wetlands, and preservation of the natural system of bays, estuaries, and wetlands. He also advocated conversion of the many now-developed areas to natural parkland and buffer zones to protect the region. Link for meeting information: More links: Link to “Off the Kuff” article: Link to Wall Street Journal article: Link to KHOU tv report (see an example of the flood-gates): Link to AP article: Ellis Pickett is the Texas Campaign Organizer for the Gulf Restoration Network. For more information, please contact

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