Will proposed dike protect Galveston from hurricanes?

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by By Kevin Reece / 11 News

khou.com

Posted on March 10, 2009 at 9:45 PM

Updated Monday, Oct 26 at 5:50 PM

Galveston County leaders estimate that a full recovery from Hurricane Ike could take anywhere from five to seven years.

Video
Will proposed dike protect Galveston from hurricanes?
March 10, 2009

But could a proposed "Ike Dike" or anti-hurricane wall help?

William Merrell says yes.

He's the one who dreamt up the idea. He says it came to him while watching the flood at his Galveston Strand apartment reach 14 feet deep.

"We didn't need this. No. We could have prevented this," said Merrell.

The Texas A&M professor says his idea lies in the Netherlands. It's called the Delta Works. It involves 10,000 miles of dikes, levies and massive, movable flood control gates.

It is considered one of the biggest engineering feats in the entire world and one which protects millions from the ravages of the North Sea.

So why not build one on the east end of the Galveston Seawall, said Merrell,

"I mean we could have prevented this. The Dutch system would have prevented it," he said.

Merrell's boss at Texas A&M, Dr. R. Bowen Loftin, thought the idea was extraordinary, maybe even crazy.

The project would be an extension of a seawall the full length of Galveston and the Bolivar Peninsula.

There would also be flood gates at the ship channel, San Luis Pass , and the Intracoastal Waterway. The project would cost at least $2 billion, say experts.

"The more you think about it, the more you realize that cost may be ten percent of what Ike cost," said Dr. Loftin. "We built a seawall here with mule and human power. We have more than that today."

Experts agree that, mechanically, the project could be done. They say that you could build a massive flood gate across the ship channel and another one across San Luis Pass.

You could extend the seawall the full length of Galveston County if you wanted to, they say.

The question is, politically, in this climate, could it happen at all?

"If we had talked about the 'Ike Dike' this time last year you'd have laughed me off the set, he's really lost his mind, that's pie in the sky. It's crazy. It's ridiculous. All those type of adjectives you would have come up with," said Galveston County Judge Jim Yarbrough.

The idea for an "Ike Dike" is gaining support because many feel that, as bad as Ike was, if it had hit 30 miles to the west, the entire oil production of the Port of Houston, might have been underwater too.

"To me the Ike Dike is starting to get some legs underneath it. So, Yeah, I think it can happen," said Yarbrough.

Dr. Loftin said that making this project a reality relies on pure political will.

Experts say that the political will, at this point, does at least have a pulse. It has supporters on the Governor's Commission for Disaster Recovery and Renewal.

But it's a long-term idea and time could make us forget about Ike.

"That's why we need to do it now. Over time people's memories will fade and they'll think, 'oh, it can never happen again.' And it can happen again and it will happen again," said Yarbrough.

Merrell's massive flood control gate would go somewhere near the cement supports that used to hold the gun turrets for Fort San Jacinto which protected Houston at the turn of the century.

Merrill said his idea will work.

"My idea of resilience is you get knocked down you get back up, but you don't let them knock you down again. Let's build this thing," he said.

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