The most disastrous decision ever made by Galveston’s leaders was their refusal to accept the 1972 offer by the Corps of Engineers to encircle half the island with a levee. The corps had found that it could protect 8,000 acres in Galveston for $94 million.
County commissioners instead insisted on a 5-mile extension of the seawall. The extension failed the federal cost/benefit test because, among other problems, “waves up to 9 feet can redevelop over the large bay areas behind the barrier island and travel inland causing significant damage.”
Meanwhile, Texas City proceeded with its levee/pump system, which protected the city during Hurricane Ike, just as it would have protected Galveston.
“We had none [flooding], not at all,” Texas City’s emergency management coordinator told journalists in November 2008. “Thank God for the folks that were smart enough to build that levee,” said the Texas City mayor. “It saved our citizens, thank God.”
Engineers at the corps, the Gulf Coast Community Protection and Recovery District, and the Severe Storm Prediction, Education, & Evacuation Center have all modeled numerous storms, unanimously concluding that the Ike Dike’s coastal spine will not protect Galveston from flooding from the 600 square miles of water in the bay.
We are in a race against time before the next big storm. The spine may protect other communities, but without a levee or other barrier from the bay, it will not protect Galveston. A levee, on the other hand, will fully protect the enclosed parts of the city, whether or not a spine is ever built. And it could be completed decades earlier.
The city council should ask the corps to model various configurations of the ring levee and other bay protection systems and provide the public with the costs and benefits of the levee as a separate component of the Ike Dike project.