In early March, the Bay Area Houston Economic Partnership hosted a meeting attended by local and state elected officials and other decision makers within the region. The purpose of the meeting was to obtain critical support for legislative funding to further ongoing studies that will determine the optimal solution for a storm surge protection system for the upper Texas Gulf Coast.
BAHEP President Bob Mitchell began the meeting by giving a little history of BAHEP’s involvement in the storm surge suppression initiative. February 2009 marked the first meeting between Mitchell, Dan Seal, BAHEP’s executive director for Special Initiatives, and Dr. Bill Merrell of Texas A&M University at Galveston. Merrell has championed the Ike Dike Concept, a coastal spine, to protect the region from storm surge in light of the $30 billion of damages and loss of life caused by Hurricane Ike in September 2008.
Mitchell then premiered a dramatic new video, financed by the Bay Area Coastal Protection Alliance (BACPA), for the group. It noted the massively destructive hurricanes which have hit the upper Texas Gulf Coast since the Great Storm of 1900, a Category 4 storm that killed an estimated 8,000 people in Galveston, the deadliest hurricane disaster in U.S. history. The names of other hurricanes are all too familiar – Carla, 1961; Alicia, 1983; Rita, 2005; Ike, 2008.
Bill Read, former director of the National Hurricane Center, who was in attendance at the meeting, stated in the video, "In the lull between the storms, we tend to forget how devastating these storms can be.”
"The biggest killer in a hurricane is the surge. Probably three quarters of the total damages in a hurricane is due to storm surge,” said Craig Beskid, executive director of the East Harris County Manufacturers Association.
What can be done to prevent the devastation and help prepare for and mitigate the flooding caused by storm surge in the tri-county area of Harris, Galveston and Chambers counties? "The idea is very simple. You stop the surge at the coast. You don’t let it get in the inland waters,” says Merrell. He supports a multi-pronged approach that uses a coastal spine to extend the Galveston seawall which was built in the early 1900s. It would be covered with sand and sea grass so that people won’t even know the barrier lies beneath. Gates would be placed along the Boliver Roads area, which is a navigation channel. This would help keep surge water out of Galveston Bay. The technology is based on that which has been used successfully for decades in The Netherlands.
Interactive Coastal Atlas introduced
The video also introduced a remarkable interactive tool, developed by the Center for Texas Beaches and Shores at TAMUG, which is now available to anyone with an internet connection. Dr. Sam Brody, director of the center, explained that the Coastal Atlas was developed so that coastal stakeholders could understand the impact of storm surge and flooding on property along the coast. Homeowners, businesses and developers can use the atlas to view relevant information about a specific location.
"The main purpose of the atlas is to study what the impacts of storm surge might be in the tri-county region,” said Brody. Users can zoom in on a plot of land and see what would happen to their homes or businesses and the quantifiable damages for certain scenarios. The atlas also incorporates a vertical slider bar to show users the drastic reduction in flood damage if the Ike Dike and coastal spine were in place.”
"New Orleans received $14.5 billion to protect 300,000 people and an economy less than 1/16 of that of the Houston region. We’re trying to protect six million people. We need to get this done, and we need the support of our elected officials to do it,” Mitchell declared. Mayor Michel Bechtel of Morgan’s Point, Texas, added that during the last Texas legislative session that not one cent was allocated for storm surge studies. Mitchell reported that in a recent conversation, Rep. Greg Bonnen, M.D., suggested that the Texas House and Senate should, on behalf of the state, write a resolution in support of the coastal spine. That sends a message to federal officials that the state is serious.
The Gulf Coast Community Protection and Recovery District (GCCPRD) is a coalition of six upper Texas Gulf Coast counties. It was formed to help Brazoria, Chambers, Galveston, Harris, Jefferson, and Orange counties develop plans and conduct studies to alleviate damage from events like Hurricane Ike. The GCCPRD, according to Col. Len Waterworth of TAMUG, has been looking at the coastal spine as well as elevating State Highway 146 by 23 feet. Waterworth noted that Galveston County Judge Mark Henry, the chair of the GCCPRD, said that the 146 plan would not be acceptable to the local communities. Waterworth indicated that opinion in the region is starting to coalesce around the coastal spine as a means to protect against storm surge.
Bechtel reported that in November 2015 a letter containing 36 Texas congressional signatures was sent to the Office of Management and Budget requesting that something be done about storm surge. Additionally, in September 2015 the Texas Municipal League issued a resolution in support of the Ike Dike Concept. The league represents 1,100 cities. Sen. Sylvia Garcia, Rep. Dennis Paul, and Rep. Wayne Smith, who were in attendance, agreed that this was a major endorsement.
Collaborative effort mandatory
Mitchell related that the East Harris County Manufacturers Association has committed to drafting a bill to request funding to continue the studies that are in progress. He also said that $2.5 million per year for the next three years will be required. The bill will need a sponsor and the support of the local Texas legislators, he stated.
Considerable discussion followed as to the best course of action to take to secure funding. "There has to be (local) ownership demonstrated before anyone is going to want to invest,” Garcia commented. Fredell Rosen of BACPA reported that the Galveston County Consolidated Drainage District has given $250,000 towards the studies over the past two years, as well as many private individuals.
"We have to show the collaborative effort across the aisle (in Texas) and across the university spectrum. We’re looking for everybody to collaborate on this – to have a piece of it,” said Houston City Council Member David Robinson.
In reply, Mitchell emphatically stated, "I want to go on the record saying that we’re all in this together. It is not one against the other. Some people have better ideas than others, but, at the end of the day, there is going to be a compromise that reflects one plan. Most importantly, though, we need leadership. We need state leadership, and we need congressional leadership to continue these efforts.” (Editor’s Note: The video presentation can be viewed on BAHEP’s website here
In March, the Bay Area Houston Economic Partnership hosted a meeting attended by local and state elected
officials and other decision makers within the region in order to obtain critical support for legislative funding
to further studies for a storm surge protection system for the upper Texas Gulf Coast.
above going clockwise: Fredell
Rosen (back to camera), president, Bay Area Coastal Protection Alliance (BACPA); Senator
Sylvia Garcia; Bob
Mitchell, president, Bay Area Houston Economic Partnership (BAHEP); Houston City
Council Member David W. Robinson; Harriet
Lukee, BAHEP membership director; Mayor Michel
Bechtel, City of Morgan’s Point; Derek
Darnell, Senator Garcia’s office; and Rep. Dennis
Paul (HD 129).
attending the Storm Surge / Coastal Atlas meeting were: Rep. Greg
Bonnen, M.D.; Rep. Wayne
Smith, HD 128; Rep. Ed
Thompson, HD 29; Brooke
Jimenez, district director, Senator Larry Taylor’s office; Betty
McGinnis, district assistant, Rep. Carol Alvarado’s office; Wesley
Starnes, chief of staff, Rep. Wayne Faircloth’s office; Debra
Risinger, district director, HD 129; Lauren
Laake, Houston City Council Member Dave Martin’s office; Julia Retta,
deputy Chief of Staff, Council Member David Robinson’s office; Jacque
Darbonne, Harris County Precinct 2 Commissioner Jack Morman’s office; Murry
Matthews, Office of Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner; Chris Hext,
East Harris County Manufacturers Association; Bill Read,
TAMUG, and former director of National Hurricane Center; Col. Len
Waterworth, Texas A&M University at Galveston (TAMUG); Will Mobley,
TAMUG; and Kathryn
Paradis, BAHEP communications manager.