Eleven months ago, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers completed a network of flood walls and levees in New Orleans. At a cost of $14 billion, it’s one of the most expensive public works projects in U.S. history. Yet, according to Scientific American online (April 11), the corps says that it will “no longer provide (required) risk reduction as early as 2023.” The reason? Subsidence and rising sea level. What’s happening on the Texas coast? Subsidence and rising sea level.
This ought to alarm anyone who believes the corps $31 billion proposal for Bolivar Peninsula and Galveston Island will offer the protection the agency promises. After the failure of its previous flood control efforts during Hurricane Katrina, it promised New Orleanians a future free of catastrophic flooding. Apparently, the promise runs out in four years.
The so-called Ike Dike would be the single largest terrestrial public works project in U.S. history. Only the $459 billion interstate highway system and California’s high speed rail project, budgeted at $33 billion, are more expensive. It should be noted that neither of these was, or is, managed by the corps.
In light of this, I have to ask why the Houston-Galveston Area Protection System proposed by Rice University’s Severe Storm Prediction, Education & Evacuation from Disasters Center has received virtually no consideration.
To summarize, that plan incorporates in-bay berms, a Galveston levee, the raising of state Highway 87 on the peninsula and FM 3005 on the island, small island dunes, a mid-bay gate and gates at Bolivar roads. Additionally, the Texas City levee would be raised.
Cost is estimated at $2.8 billion for phase one, including a 20 percent contingency, which includes the mid-bay gate, berms, the road raising’s, dune islands and the Galveston levee. Phase 2 includes the gates at Bolivar roads for an additional $5.5 billion (including 20 percent contingency) while the cost of raising the Texas City levee has yet to be factored.
According to the SSPEED Center website, among the benefits of the plan is that “portions of it can be implemented quickly in order to provide some interim protection while work proceeds on the implementation of the entire plan.” This wouldn’t be true of the corps proposal, from what we’ve seen of it.
The report also outlines efforts to mitigate harm to the environment, as well as wildlife habitat.
The estimated cost of this plan totals $8.3 billion, not including the cost of raising the Texas City levee. Weigh this against the $31 billion estimated cost of the massive corps project.
Given the experience of New Orleans in its efforts to protect itself from flooding and the apparent failure of the corps to meet this need, would building the so-called Ike Dike be throwing good money after bad, or should we believe that what happens in New Orleans stays in New Orleans?