Without the Ike Dike, a direct hit in the Houston-Galveston area by a category 3 hurricane will result in a catastrophic loss of lives and property
Hurricane Ike, which struck the Texas Gulf Coast just east of Galveston in September 2008, was the third most destructive hurricane to strike the United States. Ike left an estimated $24 billion of property damage, 82 deaths and 202 missing in its wake. Had the storm not taken a last minute turn to the north from its northwest track, it would have made a direct hit on Galveston and Houston and the storm surge would have been far more catastrophic to property and lives.
In the wake of Hurricane Ike, Texas A&M University at Galveston oceanographer William Merrell devised a plan that would protect homes and lives in the Houston-Galveston area from deadly hurricane storm surges. His plan was dubbed the “Ike Dike”.
Professor Merrell proposed an extension of the seawall all the way to the western end of Galveston Island and for a new sea wall on the Bolivar Peninsula east of Galveston Bay. In order to protect Houston and other cities along Galveston Bay, Merrell proposed the construction of huge floodgates at the entrance to the bay, like those used in the Netherlands. He also called for smaller gates at San Louis Pass and the Intracoastal Waterway, both of which are west of Galveston Island.
Sounds like a solid plan, one that would protect several hundred thousand homes and people from those deadly and destructive storm surges. But the Ike Dike was met with immediate opposition from environmentalists.
The econuts warned that the floodgates would interfere with the migration of sea life. What a crock! Those gates would only be closed upon the approach of a hurricane. They would be open at all other times, thus allowing that precious sea life to migrate into the polluted waters of the Houston ship channel. The econuts also opposed extension of the sea wall. Instead, they proposed building up the sand dunes as a natural barrier against any storm surge. Yeah right, that’ll work.
The environmentalists also say that developers are to blame for building homes and businesses within the storm surge areas. Of course they are right. But that’s no consolation for the people now living in the hundreds of thousands homes that are now sitting where they should never have been built.
The next opposition came from the bean counters. They said that the estimated $5 billion it would cost to build the Ike Dike was unattainable. Never mind that Hurricane Ike did $24 billion of property damage even though it came ashore in a far less populated area than Houston and Galveston. $5 billion is too much? Never mind that the feds spent $14.5 billion just within the city of on New Orleans to protect its citizens from the ravages of storm surge-induced flooding.
What did New Orleans have that Houston and Galveston did not have? After Hurricane Ike we did not have the pictures New Orleans had showing heart-wrenching images of 16,000 poor souls trapped in the Super Dome under unimaginable inhumane conditions.
$5 billion is too much? Along came the educated idiots at Rice University’s Baker Institute to throw a wrench into the Ike Dike plan. They had the solution to the high cost of the proposed Ike Dike. They recommended scrapping Merrell’s floodgates and sea wall extension in favor of one floodgate across the Houston ship channel. That would protect Houston’s multibillion dollar petro-chemical complex. But what about the homes and businesses siting in the path of a hurricane storm surge?
I am not an engineer or hydrologist. Common sense tells me that the water from the storm surge won’t just stop once it reaches the ship channel floodgate. It has to go somewhere. It probably cannot recede. Most likely the water will spread east and west, thereby flooding thousands of homes that might otherwise have been spared.
There has been a concerted effort in support of the Ike Dike on the part of public officials and prominent citizens from the cities within the Houston-Galveston area. But here it is nine years after Hurricane Ike and no Ike Dike is in sight. And by now the cost has probably tripled.
Will the Houston-Galveston area ever get the Ike Dike? Yes, but I fear it won’t be until after the area has taken a direct hit from a category 3 hurricane and the catastrophic loss of lives and property left in its wake.
FURTHER INFO: Texas A&M’s IKE DIKE website