This commentary is in response to (“Beach patrol sets up two new, safer guard towers,” The Daily News, March 5): These towers cost more than the traditional wooden towers in use.

Just like bread scraps attract sea gulls, this announcement attracted people who can never be pleased by anything a governmental agency does.

A repeated comment was that aluminum, Fiberglas and steel wouldn’t hold up in a marine environment. To the people who wrote those remarks, what do you think engineers do? I’m a retired, professionally licensed mechanical engineer and certified reliability engineer with 35 years of experience in the petroleum and automotive industries. One of the very first things I did on a design project was to decide what materials to use. These material choices for the towers makes sense.

All metals corrode, which forms an oxide layer that protects the base metal. That’s the chalky film that’s found on weathered aluminum. Fabricators either powder-coat or anodize aluminum to prevent corrosion and pitting. That’s what the manufacturer did on these towers.

The Daily News article said the towers contain steel. In fact, the manufacturer made the skids from stainless steel. Take a trip to any marine supply store, and you’ll find plenty of aluminum and Fiberglas. Take a trip to the Galveston docks, and you’ll see plenty of steel. The only wooden ship is a floating museum built in 1877.

In the article, beach patrol Chief Peter Davis stated the towers have a 20-year life. In all probability, he got that number from the manufacturer. In general, companies don’t dream up the life span of their products because it affects their warranties and reputation. This number is determined using a variety of methods based on published data, testing and experience. Assuming the park board follows the manufacturer’s recommendations for use and maintenance, it’s safe to assume a 20-year life.

These towers are safer and provide lifeguards with more flexibility to do their job. What’s more, they’re attractive. The extra money spent wrapping the towers helps promote tourism, which is the primary reason for the lifeguards in the first place, and it attracts advertisers. The park board hopes to pay back the towers in 15 years using sponsorships.

In conclusion, product design engineers don’t make arbitrary choices, such as material selection. Instead, they develop alternatives and make decisions based on the project requirements, which include functionality, cost, life span, etc.

It’s perfectly acceptable to question organizations like the park board or the manufacturer of the guard towers. Most of the engineers I know have strong opinions. However, these opinions need to be based on facts and an understanding of the issues involved in the decision.

Lynn Long lives in Galveston.


Recommended for you

(2) comments

David Schuler

As one engineer to another - In addition to the materials used, engineers must also weigh the cost-benefit ratio and expected environmental conditions. These new towers are SEVEN times the cost of the wooden towers, and the only stated benefit was improved lightning resistance. Do we really expect life guards to remain on the beach in an approaching thunderstorm? How can they be sure that the grounding rod is properly buried six to eight feet into the earth and properly bonded to the tower? Are they qualified to inspect the installation before each use? Furthermore, 'environment' must take into account the fact that these towers regularly get hauled around by front loaders. The wooden towers were old fashioned, yes, and weren't 'wrapped' with gaudy graphics, but they apparently stood up to both the elements and rough handling that are an inherent part of the Galveston beach environment. As for life span - I've owned boats in Galveston and Portland, OR, and the hot salty conditions here are extremely corrosive compared to many locations on the east or west coasts. So time will tell.

Kelly Naschke

I worked in the beach environment for 25 years. I know firsthand the effect of the harsh conditions on various metals, fabrics, fiberglass etc. If those towers make it 20 years, I’ll eat all the crow that your 35 years of engineering book smarts can throw together. Ain’t unusually high tide...and broken front end loader....they could be gone next week.

Welcome to the discussion.

Keep it Clean. Please avoid obscene, vulgar, lewd, racist or sexually-oriented language.
Don't Threaten. Threats of harming another person will not be tolerated.
Be Truthful. Don't knowingly lie about anyone or anything.
Be Nice. No racism, sexism or any sort of -ism that is degrading to another person.
Be Proactive. Use the 'Report' link on each comment to let us know of abusive posts.
Share with Us. We'd love to hear eyewitness accounts, the history behind an article.

Thank you for reading!

Please log in, or sign up for a new account and purchase a subscription to read or post comments.