GALVESTON — A newly formed nonprofit group says it wants to help make building a coastal hurricane barrier an issue not just for islanders, but for the entire Galveston Bay region.
The Bay Area Coastal Protection Alliance launched a campaign Wednesday pitching what it calls a “Coastal Barrier Concept for Storm Surge Protection.”
The concept, however, has a more familiar name among people who’ve followed efforts to build a barrier since a major storm struck the island in 2008.
It’s the Ike Dike, mostly.
Kenneth Mays, an account executive for Griffin Communications Group, the marketing firm hired by the alliance, said the campaign is an effort to move away from the Ike Dike name, but not the idea.
“The concept that we rolled out is really a Houston-Galveston region protection system; it’s protecting the entire Galveston Bay,” Mays said.
“It’s really a new concept,” Mays said. “That’s why we have new name for it. It’s more inclusive; it really protects a larger region.”
The crux of the new marketing push is to emphasize that a system of levees and gates nearly 30 miles long would protect not only Galveston Island from coastal flooding, but also communities and industries on the shores of Galveston Bay. That could explain why Wednesday’s media event was in La Porte, in Harris County, and not in Galveston County, where the Ike Dike has been a topic of discussion for years.
The project, according to the alliance, would cost between $4 billion and $6 billion, of which the federal government would pick up 85 percent. The group’s largest selling point, right now, is a computer model showing that if Ike had followed its originally projected path, it would have resulted in a storm surge that could have “killed hundreds, left thousands homeless and jobless and cause economic damage around $100 billion,” according to the group’s marketing materials.
The alliance’s marketing materials don’t entirely do away with the Ike Dike terminology, however.
One question in the new concept’s Frequently Asked Questions sheet about the Coastal Barrier Concept asks pointedly “Is this the same solution as the Ike Dike Concept?”
The answer: “While they are one in the same, the proposed solution does not yet have an official name.”
The Bay Area Coastal Protection Alliance was formed earlier this year, with help from the Bay Area Houston Economic Partnership, an economic development group that has long supported the Ike Dike concept. Its goal, according to its FAQ sheet, is to build broad awareness of the need for the barrier, and help generate local funds to “make it happen.”
Last month, the Galveston City Council approved paying $250,000 in 4-B tax revenue controlled by the city’s Industrial Development Corp. toward the group’s effort. The Port of Galveston has committed an equal amount.
A letter sent to the Industrial Development Corp. from the alliance’s board in March said the city money would be used to fund both additional research and “widespread dissemination of those results.”
The debut to the newish sales pitch comes the same week the federal government announced it had awarded nearly $1 billion for storm surge protection in another part of the United States.
Six projects in the New York and New Jersey area received grants totaling $920 million from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development. The largest grant of the group, $335 million, will go toward building part of a 10-mile-long barrier around Manhattan’s east side.
New York’s barrier will be a 10- to 20-foot-high berm covered will trees, shrubs and perennials that will act as a barrier against the type storm surge caused by Hurricane Sandy in 2012.
The six projects are funded out of the housing department’s $3.9 billion portion of a $60 billion aid package given to the New York-New Jersey area following that storm.
After Hurricane Ike, Texas received about $3.1 billion in HUD disaster recovery funding, according to a 2013 report from the Congressional Research Service.
Texas’ disaster funds were used for a variety of purposes — including housing recovery and flood mitigation for individual homeowners — but not for large-scale mitigation projects, like the ones now underway in the northeast.
The purpose of making the Ike Dike into a regional effort is to draw some sort of attention to the Houston-Galveston region that brought money quickly to New York, Vic Pierson, the alliance’s vice president, said.
“It they were able to get it, we should be able to as well,” Pierson said. “We have to make our case.”
Pierson said of the money that the alliance has already received, $75,000 has gone to the Bay Area Economic Partnership for marketing. The rest of the money was being paid directly for research, including an economic impact study being conducted by the University of Houston and a hurricane modeling project at Jackson State University.
The alliance’s materials do address other coastal barrier proposals — such as the so-called Centennial Gate that a Rice University group has proposed be built farther into Galveston Bay near the Fred Hartman Bridge. That group has suggested that building a smaller gate closer to Houston and then constructing levee around Galveston and other areas in the bay would be a more economical solution to protecting against storm surge.
“Coastal mitigation ... is the only solution that protects the entire region — from Galveston Island north to Houston and all of the surrounding communities,” the document says.
The Centennial Gate leaves “a significant and highly populated portion of the region completely unprotected.”
Mays said the alliance’s efforts right now are not focused on attracting federal funds for the project, but for raising money for preliminary studies related to the Ike Dike idea. Data collected in those studies could be used as part of later studies, such as the kind needed to be completed by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers before a federal project is completed.
“Right now the focus is on these studies that need to be done to really flesh out the idea,” Mays said.
Contact reporter John Wayne Ferguson at 409-683-5226 or firstname.lastname@example.org.