Isle chamber throws support behind Ike Dike

By Laura Elder
The Daily News

Published September 19, 2012

GALVESTON — The island’s largest business organization has officially thrown its support behind the Ike Dike, a $3 billion-plus proposed wall stretching about 75 miles along the coast to protect people and the regional economy from devastating storm surge.

The Galveston Chamber of Commerce’s 17-member board of directors on Tuesday unanimously approved a resolution of support for scientists at Texas A&M University at Galveston to work on the project the chamber calls “technically feasible, economically sound, environmentally friendly and socially just.”

“Suppressing surge would be of great economic benefit to the city and the region,” the resolution states.

Although the 850-member chamber is not offering financial support, it has agreed to dedicate resources to facilitate advancement of the Ike Dike, chamber board Chairman Vic Pierson said.

“I can’t think of anything that in the long-term is more important to Galveston’s future than the Ike Dike,” Pierson said.

The resolution comes as William Merrell, a marine sciences professor at Texas A&M University at Galveston, and 28 other delegates from Galveston and Houston were concluding a visit to The Netherlands. The group toured flood-control projects by the Dutch, who are considered experts at building dams, dikes, locks and other structures to prevent storm surges from the sea.

Merrell, who organized the tour, conceived the Ike Dike after Hurricane Ike, which struck four years ago this month with extensive surge causing 84 deaths and $37 billion in damage.

Among the delegates were Marie Robb, Galveston city councilwoman; Johnny Smecca, a member of the Port of Galveston’s governing board and the Galveston Economic Development Partnership; and Bob Mitchell, president of the Bay Area Houston Economic Partnership.

Incorporating The Seawall

The Ike Dike would incorporate the island’s seawall, extending it to the San Luis Pass in the west and to High Island in the east. The concept includes 17-foot-high revetments near the beach or raising coastal highways.

A huge floodgate system based on Dutch design would be built at Bolivar Roads to prevent storm surge from rushing up the Houston Ship Channel and swamping the north side of the island and the shores of Galveston Bay.

The flood gates at Bolivar Roads, the entrance to the Houston, Texas City and Galveston ship channels, and at San Luis Pass would complete a barrier against all Gulf surges into the bay, Merrell said.

Merrell said the Ike Dike isn’t just about protecting people on the coast, but the national economy and that it’s important to think regionally. The Port of Houston alone generated $178 billion in economic activity.

Meanwhile, the Severe Storm Prediction, Education and Evacuation from Disasters Center, a Rice University Group, is studying a theoretical ship channel gate and levee structure that would solely protect Houston. Supporters of that idea said it’s a cheaper concept than the Ike Dike.

Opponents said Ike Dike costs, conservatively estimated at $3 billion, are prohibitive, particularly in this economy, and argue there’s no proof such a dike system would actually work.

Further Study Needed

A conceptual study would answer those questions, Merrell said. The cost of the study would be $500,000.

Merrell and faculty of Texas A&M University at Galveston, Delft University of Technology, the University of Houston and other institutions would conduct the study. Merrell asked the city for $250,000 of 4B sales tax revenue. The group would secure another $250,000 elsewhere.

The city’s seven-member Industrial Development Corp. board administers 4B sales tax revenue, which is about $4 million a year, about $1 million a year for each of four eligible categories — parks, economic development, public infrastructure and beaches.

The board on Aug. 30 agreed to put the request out for a 60-day public comment period. When the public comment period is complete, the board will decide whether to use the sales tax for the project. If it approves the request, it would forward it on to the city council, which ultimately would decide whether to fund the study with sales tax.

The chamber did not specifically mention the conceptual study in its Ike Dike resolution.

But Pierson said he personally believed it was good use of 4B sales tax revenue.

Merrell is gaining strong local support for the Ike Dike, including island Mayor Lewis Rosen and County Judge Mark Henry, according to reports.

On Monday, the Wharves Board of Trustees, which governs the port of Galveston, is expected to pass a resolution to support Ike Dike efforts.

Click here for the RESOLUTION