The New Orleans perspective on the Ike Dike

Of interest.

Kelly Burks-Copes braces herself against the wind and marches past the ruins of Fort San Jacinto, a strategic spot on a sandy, wave-battered point where Spain, France, the Republic of Texas, the Confederacy and the United States have all taken turns building coastal defenses to protect Galveston Bay.

Now it’s Burks-Copes’ turn. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers project manager is leading an ambitious effort to build the “Ike Dike,” a $30 billion storm protection project that’s been in the works since its namesake hurricane roared through the bay almost 14 years ago. The project will dwarf the one built around New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina and perhaps even the immense coastal barriers in the Netherlands that inspired both Gulf Coast projects.

“If it’s not the largest surge barrier in the world, it’s certainly the world’s longest,” Burks-Copes said, pointing at the 2.5-mile-wide channel between the old fort site on Galveston Island and the Bolivar Peninsula.

By comparison, the Lake Borgne surge barrier between New Orleans East and St. Bernard Parish, once considered the world’s largest, is 1.8 miles long. Had the New Orleans system been built today, it’d cost about 70% as much as the Houston system.

“It’ll be like a 10-story building all the way across,” Burks-Copes said of the Galveston Bay surge barrier. “It’s something that you can barely imagine. But what do they say in Texas? ‘Go big or go home.’”

The project aims to harden 70 miles of coastline with artificial dunes, sea walls and vast steel gates, making the bay a veritable fortress that could be sealed when hurricanes threaten.

It’s ambitious and expensive, but it still may be woefully inadequate — just like New Orleans’ system.

Neither project is likely to hold up against the worst hurricanes. The New Orleans collection of levees and floodwalls is designed to withstand storm surges with a 1% chance of occurring in any given year, a so-called 100-year storm. The Ike Dike may not even meet that level of protection, the Corps admits.

Climate change is increasing the likelihood that 100-year storms and floods could occur every few years, with monster 500-year storms popping up every 50 to 100 years. The Houston area has seen no fewer than three such events, including Hurricane Harvey, between 2015 and 2018.

“Look, (the Ike Dike) needs to be built,” said Jim Blackburn, an environmental lawyer who teaches at Rice University in Houston. “But it needs to be built for the bigger storms to come. It will be way outdated once it’s constructed.”

See here and here for the most recent updates. I know we’re in for a long haul here, but I hadn’t thought of it before in the terms Blackburn expresses, that we’re going to have to keep going, and maybe even start over at the drawing board, when this thing is built. That’s more than a little daunting, and maybe a bit discouraging, but we can’t let up. Even an outdated Ike Dike is going to be better than no Ike Dike, and it will serve as the starting point for Ike Dike II: The Next Generation. What other choice do we have? Read the rest, there’s a lot more.

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6 Responses to The New Orleans perspective on the Ike Dike

  1. Frederick says:

    Ike Dike barrier spine…this is a tough one for the City of Galveston, Galveston Island and the top of Bolivar Peninsula.

    We would essentially have to destroy them to save them.

  2. Joel says:

    Un. In. Tend. Edconsquences.

    Coming soon to a coastal plain near you!

  3. voter_worker says:

    The US Army Corps of Engineers document appears to show many of the Galveston streets intersecting Seawall Blvd. being closed, with a few having closeable gates, if I’m interpreting the graphics correctly. There would be a 2′-4′ “stick-up” barrier running alongside the landward edge of the boulevard. Has the City of Galveston gone through whatever public hearing process that would be required for this kind of change? Or maybe I’m misinterpreting the graphics? Here’s a link to that part of the document.

  4. SocraticGadfly says:

    Story doesn’t tell half the problem of problems with an Ike Dike.

    1. Environmental destruction would likely be worse than planned.
    1A. The Corps is NOT an environment-friendly agency. A&M Galveston probably the same. This is an exercise in engineering wet dreaming for them, above all else.
    1B. Given the Corps’ history, its construction cost estimates should be at least doubled if not more than that to be brought into the realm of reality.
    2. An Ike Dike would do nothing to protect against surges on the inside side of Galveston Island, which is a lot of Helltown’s problems.
    2A. An Ike Dike would certainly do nothing to protect against flooding from inland low pressure systems, definitely a lot of Helltown’s problems.
    3. Options? Yes there are options. One of them is moving. If you really think you have to have it, a payment option for wingnuts and neolibs alike to back is a national carbon tax.
    I’ve discussed all of this years ago.

  5. SocraticGadfly says:

    And, a one-year-later update to my original, which talked more about the cost side, including wondering (still true today) if we have any real estimates on long-term maintenance costs, which will themselves be huge.

  6. C.L. says:

    It’ll never happen in my or my progeny’s lifetime.

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