I find Elizabeth Beeton’s rationale in supporting a north-facing ring levee around much of Galveston both faulty and specious (“Ring levee alone will protect Galveston from storms,” The Daily News, Jan. 4).

Her reasoning is faulty when she invidiously compares us to Freeport and Texas City, who built levees while we refused the option in 1972. (I summarize her view as “Weren’t they smart? — Weren’t we foolish?”) But please, think!

First, Freeport and Texas City actually built gulf-facing levees which act like our seawall blocking southern surge. So, they built their seawalls and we and the county wanted to add 5 miles to ours. Is that stupidity?

Second, remember that Freeport and Texas City aren’t islands. They have space. Therefore, they’ve been able to put their levee system on ground that was basically empty and available without needing to build on top of the existing populations and economic activities. We don’t have the space to do that.

Third, Texas City and Freeport have big process industries to tax for levee and pump maintenance. Without a large industrial base, Galveston’s 50,000 (it would soon be less) and weekend homeowners would have to pay for the local portion of maintaining the ring levee and its pumps at a crippling individual cost.

Worse, her reasoning is specious because while extolling “benefits” of a ring levee, she not only leaves out construction costs, she carefully omits the ongoing social and economic costs any such north-facing, circular ring levee scheme would have for us on the island.

Let’s look at the one specific example we have. The circular ring levee as proposed by the U.S. Army Corps Engineers (at an estimated construction cost of over $1 billion) would be destructive to at least five residential neighborhoods: Evia, The Crashboat Basin, Teichman Point, Channelview (rebound effects), and of course, Lindale. She ignores these costs.

She also leaves out the fact that the ring levee slicing down Harborside would massively and negatively impact the port’s ability to function and grow, and impacts the University of Texas Medical Branch as badly by cutting right through its facilities and campus, and undermining much of its present and future activities.

Nice! As well as destroying neighborhoods, this north-facing, circular levee negatively impacts two of our most important employers and tourist attractions. Finally, our share of ongoing maintenance costs aren’t even considered by her.

In fact, Beeton’s, and the corps’, circular ring levee concept is a classic example of a negative cost-benefit ratio. Such a structure will continuously cost far more to us on the island from destruction of neighborhoods, continuous obstruction of economic activity, and higher personal/property taxes than it ever would save us in very occasional storm surge protection from the north.

It may be possible to have some sort of bayside protection that wouldn’t negatively impact those who live here, but Beeton’s, the corps’ or any other circular ring levee concept placed on top of people and job sources is something we simply cannot afford.

Harris “Shrub” Kempner Jr. lives in Galveston.

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(13) comments

Steve Fouga

And you, sir, are ignoring the possibility that if Galveston were essentially impervious to flooding, you might be able to attract a few real businesses to the Island.

I wish people would quit envisioning the Corps’s line on the map as being exactly where the protection structures MUST be placed. Imagine them where they make the most sense, and put them there.

Steve Fouga

Further, anyone who thinks a levee along the beach will protect the north shore of the Island from wind-driven bay waters is just plain nuts.

Ron Woody

No offense to anyone, but having been responsible for the creation of numerous Continuity of Operation Plans, "essentially impervious" is not a term that would bring comfort to a commercial enterprise or the government. The idea that any significant business that does not require access to chemical plants, ports or refineries would place a major operation on Galveston Island is a pipe dream. There is nothing that will guarantee not having to spend millions in capital dollars every 5 to 20 years for storm repair.

Rusty Schroeder

There will be stories, editorials, and letters to the editor every week for the next 5 years in this paper, and not 1 cubic foot of dirt will be moved.

Jeff Patterson

Debating the relative merits of each other's arguments is interesting, but doesn't get us any closer to real solutions. I am an engineer, not a lawyer. The "what" is that regardless of an "Ike Dike", and even with a barrier across San Luis Pass, every study I have reviewed says that Galveston is vulnerable to bay side surge flooding. That only gets worse as sea levels rise. The challenge is the "how". I think something we can all agree on is that building a levee around/through the north side of Galveston amongst all the existing structures, businesses, facilities, infrastructure, etc is an inelegant proposition. The fact that it is messy, complicated, and not necessarily popular doesn't preclude it from being done...........I'm sure a lot of folks thought that about building a seawall and doing a grade raising. There might also be some other interesting solutions for addressing the bay side surge issue.........what about reinforcing/expanding the existing Texas City Dike and extending it to Pelican Island, gating the mouth of the Galveston harbor, and connecting it to the east end of the island? There may be other potential solutions as well that don't involve a messy ring levee on the north side of Galveston. But even if that is the best/only solution, the point is that we are all in this boat together, so lets work collaboratively on finding best solutions to the "what" we collectively as Galvstonians face.

Miceal O'Laochdha

Shrub: I essentially agree with all of the points you make that argue against the rationality of building a ring levee around the main part of Galveston and suspect the whole idea is dysfunctional. But, I would like to suggest, just for general consideration, one area where a structural concept other than a levee could be considered. Along the Galveston Ship Channel (POG and more), a seawall with gates for truck and rail access to the docks, more or less identical to what you can see along the working port wharves on the river in New Orleans, could perhaps provide a meaningful degree of protection from surge from the bay for the downtown area, UTMB, and midtown. The wall could be constructed as far as possible along Old Port Industrial Rd. rather than Harborside, and as close as possible to the docks east and west of that section. The anticipated maintenance costs of this port wall could probably be estimated with a little conversation with the Orleans and Jefferson Parishes' levee authorities. Might be worth at least investigating?

Steve Fouga

Build a land bridge to replace the existing Pelican Island bridge, at a grade suitable for flood protection. Place gate in the land bridge. Rebuild Seawolf Parkway with a levee beneath it, north of its current location to enclose A&M campus behind the levee. Build a gate across Galveston Channel from Seawolf Park to Ft. Point on Galveston Island. Build a levee connecting to the existing East End levee system and ultimately to the seawall. Raise the seawall if deemed necessary. Raise 61st St to the same grade as the seawall, to act as a levee. Tie into existing I-45 embankments. North of I-45, construct a levee just north of Postoffice St, and tie into the new land bridge.

This ring levee protects Galveston's business district, its main residential neighborhoods, the Port of Galveston, Galveston's medical facilities, and all of Galveston's institutions of higher education. It also creates the potential for rail traffic onto Pelican Island.

George Croix

I note with some small degree of satisfaction that the GDN is capable of devolving to my own pitiful level of spelling proficiency........

Jarvis Buckley

Anytime Kempner's speak island folk listen. Shrub come from a very well respected family. They have accomplished much for the Island.
His dislike for Elizabeth Beeton glares
through his words & diminishes his article. He makes some very good points , but someone with his education could share their point of view without diminishing another persons ideas . Just doesn't seem
Appropriate . Just my opinion.
Total respect for Kempner family's
many years of service to this Island.

Dan Freeman

Why not go a step further and run a levee straight down Seawolf Parkway then a gate from Seawolf Park to a levee at Fort Point that connects to the existing Seawall at Fort San Jacinto? On the west build a levee along TX 275 to a land bridge at Pelican Island Bridge for rail and car traffic. Finally another gate on Offatts Bayou and a finishing levee west of Scholes field to the existing seawall. This can prevent a flood of Galveston from the back wash of Galveston Bay, a backwash that will be seriously toxic.
The concept dates to the St. Lucia Flood of 1287, which destroyed most of the Netherlands except West-Friesland, which was protected by a ring dike. Nothing new under the sun. [smile]

Steve Fouga

Similar to my suggestion above, except for the western boundary. I'd rather not have a gate across Offats, but that would be less disruptive, from a construction standpoint, than my suggestion of raising 61st St. Also good to enclose Scholes.

Jarvis Buckley

10 years from now it will still be argued about. Passed from one committee to another. This problem isn't new . If we can't agree to build a wall to protect our borders from illegal activity what makes a reasonable person think we can build a dike or levee to stop a natural disaster from destroying our lives.

Kelly Naschke

Good point Jarvis.

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