Extending levees on the mainland and building a ring around the east end of Galveston Island would cost less and have greater economic benefit than a proposed 55-mile coastal spine, according to a new report from a six-county group created to study hurricane protection options for the Texas coast.
A new report from The Gulf Coast Community Protection and Recovery District estimates 62.6 miles of levees north and west of the existing Texas City Dike and a ring levee around Galveston would cost $3.5 billion to construct and $193 million a year to operate and maintain, for 50 years.
In return, the ring levees would provide $1.2 billion in annual benefit to the region, between preventing property damage and reducing the cost of debris removal.
An alternative to the levee system, a 55.6-mile seawall that stretches from the San Luis Pass to the east end of Bolivar Peninsula would cost $5.8 billion to construct and have an annual benefit of $1 billion, according to the report. The coastal spine, popularly known as the “Ike Dike,” was first proposed by experts at Texas A&M University at Galveston.
“The annual benefits are greater” for the levee alternative, the report says. “This can be attributed to the enhanced level of protection that is provided to the city of Galveston and the west side of Galveston Bay by a system that effectively seals these areas from tidal surge.”
The study also includes analysis of protection measures that could be built to the north of Galveston, in Jefferson and Orange counties, and to the south, in Brazoria County.
It does not make recommendations about how the state should move forward with storm surge protection measures. That phase of the study should be presented in June, said Galveston County Judge Mark Henry, the chairman of the recovery district committee.
Galveston County residents can take the cost-effectiveness study in two ways, Henry said.
The projects analyzed for the Galveston and Harris County areas provide more benefits than the projects on other parts of the Texas coast.
While the levee alternative is cheaper, Henry said, it might not get the support of local residents because of who would be left out. The extended levee that was analyzed for the study would run north along State Highway 146. It would leave some communities, including Bacliff and San Leon, without protection. It also would not include any protection for areas west of Galveston’s Scholes International Airport, or on Bolivar Peninsula.
“I don’t think it will get much support,” Henry said of the levee alternative. “The cost is higher, but you’re talking about leaving some areas out”
The recovery district was created by Gov. Rick Perry in 2010 in response to the damage caused Hurricane Ike. However, the district did not receive funding from the state to move forward with a study until 2013.
Hurricane Ike caused $19.3 billion of damage in Texas in 2008. Since then, there have been no large-scale federal or state projects approved to prevent the type of storm-surge damage that occurred during Ike.
Individual cities, counties and institutions have used federal money to harden their own infrastructure against the type damage Ike caused.
Even after recommendations are made, there are no concrete plans to fund a project based on them, Henry said. The funding would have to come to the federal government, but it might take another major storm for there to be action, he said. Having thorough plans in place would put Texas in a similar position to New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina in 2005. Plans for protection projects already had been prepared before the storm struck.
“It’s an unfortunate possibility,” Henry said. “They had some plans in their hands and they were able to get funding.”