What’s an informed citizen to make of the discussion Monday at the Texas Legislature’s Joint Committee on Coastal Barrier Systems?

First, communities around Galveston Bay will never get far with competing plans.

Supporters of the proposed Ike Dike concept — a massive system that would protect the whole bay — have received endorsements from local governments and chambers of commerce surrounding the bay. They’ve received support from institutions such as The Daily News.

But Monday’s meeting showed that there are competing ideas about how to go about protecting the region. At least some of those ideas are backed by organizations with influence and money.

So, it’s a bit early to declare there’s a consensus. And consensus is badly needed.

Second, everyone agrees federal help is essential for building a massive system to protect residents and property from storm surge. It’s just too big a project for state and local governments. However, coastal residents sometime talk as if they believe there is a fixed process for getting that aid — and sometimes they talk as if they don’t. They talk, in other words, as if they intend to follow the rules in trying to get federal help until the moment that doesn’t seem practical, at which point they’ll pursue a way around that process — a “political solution.”

People who followed news of Monday’s meeting ought to wonder whether the notion of a “political solution” makes sense.

During the meeting, Col. Richard P. Pannell, commander of the Galveston District of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, said: “Texas is the only coastal state without a comprehensive coastal plan. It will take millions of dollars just to get to the place where you can compare options, and know how to proceed.”

People concerned about protecting lives and property along Galveston Bay ought to take those words to heart. Getting a consensus is going to be important. But getting a better grasp on the process — what exactly it would take to get to that place where options can be compared — is also going to be important.

• Heber Taylor

(4) comments

PD Hyatt

Mr. Taylor.... Since the Ike Dike will stop the water from flooding this area, where do you think that it is going to go? Do you think that it might flood areas upstream and downstream from the Ike Dike? How many law suits do you think that would create for who ever builds and pays for that dike? By the time you get ALL of the dikes built from Brownville to Miami, who do you think is going to have those TRILLIONS of dollars to pay for all of this? Then Mexico will be suing us and we will have to build them one.... We as a nation are bankrupt.... The last I heard we were borrowing over 40 cents of every dollar we were spending and that was about 2 years ago.... Now as our debt continues to soar as we continue to spend money we do not have, I would imagine we are approaching 50 cents borrowing for every 1 dollar we spend.... If that dike were to be built how much do you think our local taxes would go up? No one seems to be asking that stupid little question or even give us a little bit of information about how much our taxes will be going up.... That makes me think out taxes our going to FLY straight up through the roof and to think otherwise IMHO is just being foolish....

Steve Fouga

A few comments: First, a single leader of this project must be named, and it should not be a member of academia. It should be a program manager experienced in running large projects, preferably federal-government-funded projects. By large I mean multi-billion dollar programs. Most professors, judges, and local politicians aren't experienced enough managers to run something like this.

Second, the lack of scientific method and engineering know-how displayed by Texas A&M and Rice is surprising. The institutions each simply picked their favorite concept without doing a comprehensive trade study. An industry program manager might get fired for doing the same; in fact, I've seen it happen. It's unforgivable when large sums of money and potentially lives are at stake.

Third, there is a high likelihood that the "Ike Dike" coastal-spine concept as proposed by TAMUG is simply too big an undertaking to ever be built. It's a monster. Endorsed by several local governments and this newspaper -- who don't have a clue of the engineering, legal, and environmental enormity of the project -- it will cost tens of billions and take decades to complete.

The Centennial Gate, by itself, might be worse. Though cheap compared to the Ike Dike (think single-digit billions), it is frankly dangerous. Closing the Houston Ship Channel that far north virtually guarantees flooding further south. Only Texas City, with its levee, would be safe in the event of a large surge up the Channel.

At this meeting the SSPEED guys, led by Rice university, broadened their concept to include multiple surge protection systems like ring levees, small dikes, elevated jetties, etc., plus the Centennial Gate. In my opinion, this multi-pronged approach is the only idea that has a chance of working. Each piece could be built as funding becomes available, and the total will still be far cheaper and less disruptive than the Ike Dike. The drawback: A multi-device system doesn't protect every house and business between High island and Freeport like the Ike Dike does. The advantage: It might be affordable enough to build, so that some of us could be protected rather than none.

In short, the Ike Dike coastal spine would work but is unaffordable and probably environmentally untenable. I personally wouldn't want to spend a penny of my taxes on it. I'd like to see a series of small flood mitigation devices protecting communities and industry, like the Texas City levee has for several decades.

And would someone please, please name a leader of this project, and tell me it's not anyone from Texas A&M or Rice.

Bill Broussard

I guess there are truer words spoken, Jake, but I can't recall any more true than yours. We can only guess what Texas A&M is paying former Colonel Lynn Smileyface of the ACOE to be the spokesperson for Dr. Merrill but his spokesperson has been a paid lobbyist even before he left the ACOE. Pretty boys do make money I guess.
Here something to add to you and Heber's barrel: Ever since about a year after Ike, I have heard may folks who support the Ike Dike (including those from Texas A&M) brag about circumventing the Army Corp. of Engineers. Brag about it! And, like you said, they also circumvented good science at the same time.

The real shame is a workable, doable levy for the undefended bayside downtown area to 61st street is overlooked in the interest of the grand and impractical setting us up for the next storm.

Steve Fouga

The sooner a plan suitable for Corps action can be developed, the better. The problem, as I understood the discussion Monday, is getting to that point.

Also, as I understand it, but I could be wrong, the Corps is the entity who does things like this. Okay, I'm sure there are private engineering/construction companies that build earthworks and flood gates, but if it's federally funded, isn't it usually the Corps who oversees the project? Sort of like the Air Force and Navy oversee the design and manufacture of military aircraft and ships, and NASA oversees the space program.

You mention a Galveston levee. Wouldn't it be cool to raise Seawolf Parkway and place floodgates at the Pelican Island bridge and Seawolf Park to protect the Pelican Island harbor as well? That sort of levee/gate system would virtually ensure Galveston's future as a port/industrial complex. Horrendously expensive, I'm sure!

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