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.”

Contact reporter John Wayne Ferguson at 409-683-5226 or john.ferguson@galvnews.com. Follow him on Twitter, @johnwferguson.

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(10) comments

Richard Moore
Richard Moore

Yesterday, I quickly reviewed the study and many of the supporting documents. While it is quite officious and contains a lot of data, my concerns were immediately directed to the estimate of the Total Benefits for the levee enhancements (Levee) vs. the coastal spine (Spine). The benefit amount for the Levee which protects primarily Galveston (behind the seawall) and Texas City is indicated to have a HIGHER Total Benefit than the Spine. This to me is very hard to comprehend since the Spine would provide protection for the same area as the Levee AS WELL ASS MUCH MORE AREA.

The rational that the Levee would protect Galveston from tidal rise from the bay and therefore generates a higher benefit amount I am sure is correct; however, I would like to see how all this was calculated. The Levee’s are a good system, but if you look closely at the Galveston Ring, you question why they would not protect the Fish Village/Harbor Side areas and the Ferries. Even more in question is the strategy for how the ring would traverse Offats Bayou. Bottom line, the cost projections require a lot of vetting!

George Croix

There is very little risk in taking any 'government project' cost estimate and multiplying it by at least a factor of 3 before the first bit of work is even started.....
None of which counts the cost of time delays and litigation battling the EPA and the various other interests that will fight tooth and nail to 'save' something or other from any project....
Picture buying a car, and looking at the price the nice salesman hands you after 'negotiating down' from the sticker price...then get ready for the trips to the 'manager' to get his permission, then the 'suggested' undercoating, paint sealant, maintenance agreement, extended warranty, extra to put air in the tires and oil in the crankcase.........[beam][beam]

If anything, Mr. Moore's excellent post is understating the need for a LOT of cost vetting......

Carol Hollaway

The costs and the benefits for the study altogether need to be clearly explained so that the public can understand what each contains. I have seen very little discussion regarding any salinity and bay circulation modeling upon which bay system impacts are estimated. It appears, on the surface, that the only environmental impacts that were acknowledged in the report were the impacts of the footprint of the levees and coastal spine. Other environmental and social impacts should be presented. Communities like Searook and San Leon would be on the "outside" of the levee system along Hwy 146 and all the development south of Hwy 3005 on the Island's west end would be on the "outside" of the Ike Dike. I doubt that the costs of these alternatives include the cost of compensating the development that would be left "outside" the levees. Total project costs must include not only cost of construction but also real estate acquisitions and the annual operation and maintenance. Remember that New Orleans did had a levee system that they failed to maintain over time. We should be very mindful of the significant financial burden that our children will inherit with any levee system or Ike Dike.

Leon Lion

If you block rising water from one place, dose it not just go somewhere else even more so then it would had there not been a levee or dike?

Freeport, Baytown, La Port, The Houston Port?

Just a thought.

Carol Dean

Sir, you make way too much sense!

Don Ciaccio

Carol, the homes outside the levee system wouldn't be bought out. They would just not be protected. Life would continue as it is now. The folks outside the levee would just not reap the benefit.

Susan Fennewald

I've started reading the report -

Apparently what we think of as the "ike dike" was never seriously considered. What they call the "coastal spine" is the Ike dike minus the San Luis pass gate. So though the gate at Bolivar Roads prevents water from being driven up the Houston ship channel, the water can still enter via San Luis Pass - and the city of Galveston still floods (though maybe only to 9 ft instead of 12 ft).

So while the levee system is criticized for leaving some parts of the mainland unprotected, the coastal spine leaves Galveston unprotected (though the west end beachfront might (or might not) get their dune.

Susan Fennewald

Another way of looking at it is to ask
Who does the coastal spine protect better? And who does it protect worse?

IF the coastal spine is built in front of the first row of beachfront houses - then it protects them better, but everyone else worse.

IF the coastal spine is built under 3005 and 87 (on bolivar) then it doesn't protect anyone better. ( except for marginal extra protection for the bayside on Galveston's west end and Bolivar) and everyone is worse off.

Susan Fennewald

I may have gotten a little carried away in my last post. Those in the clear lake area may be better off with the coastal spine. Clearly those in Galveston are NOT (unless they're on the beachfront and the spine is built in front of the beachfront properties instead of under 3005).

Ellen Morrison

Correct me if I'm wrong, please.

I've been seeing a resurgence of media coverage about the "Big Storm" due to hit the Upper TX Gulf Coast and the impact it could have on Houston and the energy industry. And the coverage I've seen has been national. I wonder where this is coming from? Who or what is the sudden impetus behind this?

I also wold like to know what the situation with Rollover Pass has to do with some form of protection system. Does it help the protection system to have it closed? Does it help keep the Bay fresher if it is open and there is a protection system in place? Is the timing of the closing of Rollover Pass being engineered to coincide with a protection system?

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