Renewed Push for Coastal Protection

By Kyle Beam, GHPB

Almost eight years ago, on September 13, 2008, Hurricane Ike made landfall on the eastern end of Galveston Island. The storm brought with it a destructive power that drew comparisons to Hurricane Carla of 1960 and the Great Storm of 1900. Winds, up to 145 MPH, had gathered up strength over the open water and pushed waves as high as 20ft into the eastern side of Galveston Island, onto and across Bolivar Peninsula and into Chambers County. Today, structures on and near the Strand in Galveston have plaques on the walls signifying the high water line from Ike, in many cases the plaques are over 7 feet high. Bolivar saw almost 90 percent of the structures on the Peninsula destroyed, and today remnants of the destruction can still be seen. Those remnants are now a distant memory for most in the Houston-Galveston area, but for some it is a near daily nightmare of what could be on the horizon.

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The destruction caused by Ike caused almost $30 billion in damages to the Houston-Galveston area. To date it is the third costliest natural disaster in United States history, surpassed only by Hurricane Katrina and Superstorm Sandy. Unlike New Orleans and New York/New Jersey after each respective storm the Houston-Galveston area did not receive federal money for protection from future storms. As bad as Ike was, there are some who fear it could have been worse were it not for a 30 mile jog to the east just hours before landfall.

In March, Pro Publica, in partnership with the Texas Tribune, published a comprehensive animated online feature on the impact of Ike to the upper Texas Gulf Coast. Along with the animation of what happened during Ike, the feature also explored two “perfect storm” scenarios, drawn from research by scientists at Rice University and the University of Texas at Austin, if Ike had not made the 30-mile jog to the east. The feature highlighted two specific areas receiving the most impact in each scenario: the Clear Lake/Johnson Space Center area and the Houston Ship Channel.

Scenario one, if Ike had not moved across the East End of Galveston Island and instead made landfall on Jamaica Beach, the animation showed Clear Lake and the Johnson Space Center inundated with water as the storm surge pushed from Galveston Bay into Clear Creek. The scenario also showed water pushed into the Houston Ship Channel with many complexes receiving water but not inundated. Scenario Two was a hypothetical storm following the same path as Scenario One, but 15 percent stronger in wind speed, which was called the worst case scenario. This scenario’s animations proved more shocking, showing everything east of Interstate 45 from Bay Area Blvd. to FM 518 inundated with water. The scenario also highlighted the Houston Ship Channel area completely underwater from ExxonMobil in Baytown to the Turning Basin.

After the feature was published, a renewed push has been made by members of the community to adopt a coastal protection plan. In the years since Ike, the ideas presented for the plan have been referred to as the “Ike Dike.” Currently, there are three main proposals, which were detailed in the Pro Publica/Texas Tribune feature showing the impact each would have on reducing storm surge in the event of a future storm. The proposals are described in the sidebar to the right.

The community at large has yet to support one specific proposal, but in several newspaper editorials around the area, editors are calling on Sen. John Cornyn to step forward and take the lead on adopting one of the proposals. On April 28, Sen. Cornyn took the first step in what will prove to be many, by filing a bill to expedite a U.S. Army Corps of Engineers study to determine the best way to protect the region. With Sen. Cornyn’s action what before seemed only a dream to many may now only be a few years away from becoming a reality.

Coastal Protection Proposals

Proposal 1 - Proposed by the SSpeed Center at Rice University, referred to as Mid-Bay System by Pro Publica/Texas Tribune. The proposal calls for barriers to be built along Galveston Island and Galveston Bay, with the focus of the plan a gate across the bay from Clear Lake. Rice estimates the cost of the proposal at $2.8 billion.

Proposal 2 - Referred to as the Coastal Spine by Pro Publica/Texas Tribune and proposed by Bill Merrill at Texas A&M. The proposal calls for the extension of the 17-foot high Galveston Seawall along the length of Galveston Island, and a second 17-foot high seawall built along the length of Bolivar Peninsula, with a gate across the mouth of the bay. Merrill estimates the cost of the proposal to be at least $8 billion.

Proposal 3 - A recent plan being adopted by reseachers at Texas A&M and Jackson State University and referred to by Pro Publica/Texas Tribune as the Extended Coastal Spine. The proposal calls for the extension of the 17-foot high Galvestion Seawall system down to Freeport and all the way up to the Louisiana border. There is no defined cost on this proposal.

Coastal Protection

  • Date May 10, 2016
  • Tags May 2016