Author’s note: This is the fifth article in a series describing nine changes that we would propose to the U. S. Army Corps of Engineers Tentatively Selected Plan, based upon our Ike Dike-related research over the last decade.

The first article (“Army Corps’ coastal spine plan needs some changes,” The Daily News, Dec. 12) discussed moving the corps’ proposed levee and flood-wall land barriers from behind the coastal highways to the coast and constructing the protection needed as natural-appearing fortified dunes.

The second (“Further changes needed to improve the Army Corps’ coastal spine plan,” Dec. 23) discussed changes necessary to reduce surges in Galveston Bay — such as adding a western section as fortified dunes on Follet’s Island and a gate at San Luis Pass — and instituting best practices for bay water management in estimating bay surge.

The third article (“Creating the best coastal spine for Texas, Part III,” Dec. 24) dealt with rethinking the size, complexity and even need for the Galveston ring levee and gates and structures at Kemah and Dickinson Bayou.

The fourth article (“Two more ways to improve Army Corps’ coastal barrier,” Dec. 26) addressed reducing or eliminating the north-south eastern barrier running up from High Island and modifying the Bolivar Roads water barrier to reduce the size of the ship gates and allow more flow through the environmental section.

This article addresses the remaining ninth change: Clarify costs for different activities, and work on reducing costs.

Although the Army Corps has clearly stated that the total cost estimates in the plan include much more than upper coast protection, its total project cost estimates of $23.1 billion to $43.8 billion have been assumed by many to be the cost of the upper coast protection.

The corps does estimate the upper coast protection at a whopping $14.2 billion to $19.9 billion, and states it used the Gulf Coast Community Protection and Recovery District’s costs as a basis for its analysis, but the recovery district’s total estimated cost for a similar configuration is about $9.5 billion. That seems like a lot of difference.

An independent Dutch analysis of our Ike Dike configuration, with gates at San Luis Pass and protection on Follet’s Island but no ring levee at Galveston or gates at Kemah or Dickinson Bayou, came in at about $9.2 billion.

The public needs to understand the differences in the total cost estimates of the corps and other groups. The corps also needs to present cost estimates of individual features, such as the Galveston ring barrier, instead of lumping all barriers together. The lumping of costs creates a false take-it-all or leave-it impression.

I estimate the ring barrier cost as presently designed at about $2 billion, and I also believe we could achieve more neighborhood and port friendly backside protection for the eastern part of the city of Galveston at much less cost. The corps report structure makes it difficult to understand how to take advantage of features that can be usefully reduced or eliminated to reduce project costs.

In the next article we’ll put the nine suggested changes to the plan in a context and discuss moving forward.

William Merrell is president emeritus, regents professor and Mitchell chair of the Center for Texas Beaches and Shores, Texas A&M University at Galveston.

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