Opposition to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers’ preferred plan for a storm-surge barrier along this part of the Texas Coast is large and diverse.

In fact, one of the most remarkable things about this remarkable civil engineering effort is the unlikely coalition of opposition it has inspired.

Nobody, except the corps itself, perhaps, wants anything to do with some part or another of the proposed barrier.

Those opposed include passionate environmentalists; people equally passionate about property values; government officials; storm-barrier researchers at Rice and Texas A&M universities; cities and chambers of commerce; people worried about the sociological ramifications of dividing communities; and people worried about being trapped in a bowl on Galveston Island and drowned, as were people in the Ninth Ward of New Orleans during Hurricane Katrina.

Several questions arise. One is whether the corps could lop off the unpalatable parts of the plan — the ring levee around parts of Galveston, for example — and still have a barrier system technically sound enough to justify spending billions of public dollars.

Another is whether changing the barrier’s alignment from roughly the rights of way along state Highway 87 on Bolivar Peninsula and FM 3005 on Galveston Island to instead follow the public easement along Gulf-side beaches could be financially justified.

The most urgent question, however, is whether we wouldn’t all be better off passing on the whole idea and dealing with future hurricanes the way we’ve dealt with those of the past.

In other words, is the do-nothing option the best option? Some people in Galveston and on the peninsula have already concluded that doing nothing would be preferable to doing what the corps plan proposes.

Dr. William Merrell worries the do-nothing option has become attractive and argues there is a cost-effective way to protect communities in this region of the coast from surge such as happened during Hurricane Ike without the objectionable parts and for far less than the $32 billion the corps estimates its method would cost.

Merrell’s name will be familiar to anyone who has followed development of the coastal barrier. His titles are president emeritus, regents professor and Mitchell Chair at the Center for Texas Beaches and Shores at Texas A&M University at Galveston, but many locals know him as the father of the Ike Dike concept.

Merrell also opposes the corps’ preferred plan for the barrier and argues a better barrier system could be built for perhaps a third of the cost.

It’s a safe bet that no one has thought or put more study into the idea of a coastal barrier since Hurricane Ike than Bill Merrell. The first reference to an Ike Dike appeared in a January 2009 Daily News article in which Merrell explained his initial vision for such a barrier.

The Daily News first met Merrell before that, however. In 2008, just a few days after Ike’s flood water had receded enough to be out and about, two Daily News editors interviewed him as he and grandson mucked out a building on The Strand. We suspect Merrell was even then thinking about a barrier to keep storm surge at bay.

Because of his long-running, deeply personal and academic experience in the subject, The Daily News has agreed to publish five free-access columns in which Merrell will make his case for a better, cheaper coastal barrier. The first was published Dec. 12. The second appears on this page today and the rest will appear Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday.

The editors invite comment in letters to the editor of about 200 words and rebuttals from the corps and other organizations in the form of columns of about 500 words.

• Michael A. Smith

Michael A. Smith: 409-683-5206; michael.smith@galvnews.com


(7) comments

Susan Fennewald

I missed the article where Merrell proposes a cheaper alternative. Any idea what that is? Certainly, the closing of both San Luis Pass and Bolivar Roads wouldn't be cheaper -either financially or environmentally.

Jose' Boix


Susan Fennewald

I saw this guest column - but it didn't look like it would be any cheaper. Instead of having one gate on the Gulf at Bolivar Roads - it would have two (one at Bolivar Roads and one at San Luis Pass). And instead of having the coastal barrier behind the erosion line and under the highways, it would have them in the erosion zone in front of the first line of houses.
That sounds just as expensive - if not more.

Gary Miller

Any plan not providing lifetime tenure with bloated salary for bureaucrats in charge of spending will be rejected by the bureaucrats.

Steve Fouga

Giving Dr. Merrell special standing as a featured columnist is a mistake, in my opinion. His credibility was in question as soon as he proposed this grandiose boondoggle years ago, with little thought given to its practical consequences, or at least little public acknowledgement of them. I have a feeling that Dr. Merrell will simply eliminate many of the environmental protections from the Corps report, as well as the Galveston ring levee, recast his original concept as something new, and claim his cost estimates are somehow better than the Corps's.

As far as no one having put more thought into this subject than Dr. Merrell, well, I couldn't disagree more. The Corps has put more thought into this than any "one" else. Furthermore, they are practicing engineers used to designing things. That in itself bestows some credibility to their conclusions, and especially their cost estimates.

An Ike Dike just as effective for 1/3 the cost? No way. But maybe effective enough. A less monumental effort is definitely in the right direction. Protect the petrochemical industry, the medical facilities, the evacuation routes, and possibly some business districts. We don't need a 75-mile levee to do that.

Think about this: Driving from High Island to the Pass, looking out toward the Gulf and seeing... a hill? The sooner we can see artists' concepts of buildable structures and earthworks, IN THE CONTEXT OF THEIR SURROUNDINGS, and based on actual engineering drawings, the sooner we can decide whether the Ike Dike is something we can stand.

Jarvis Buckley

Steve I agree with you👍.

Paul Sivon

Please don’t stop now. Ask Dr. Merrell to explain his sand budget; the amount of sand needed for the life of the project, the source of the sand, cost of the sand and the risk of failure of the engineered dunes if vast quantities of sand are not provided regularly for the life of the project (forever). The North Sea is a sandbox with a little clay, the modern Gulf of Mexico is a clay box with a little sand. Also, does he really think the public beach in a beach access sense is not private without all the issues of dealing with Texas property rights?

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