Call it Ike Dike 2.0 if you want.
Five years after Hurricane Ike devastated the upper Texas coast, a group of Houston scientists presented details Tuesday about a proposed gate to protect the Houston Ship Channel and much of the Bayou City’s industrial base during another hurricane.
Meeting at Rice University, the scientists generally agreed that a large gate at the entrance to the Ship Channel would provide a cheaper and more environmentally friendly alternative to the Ike Dike.
Preliminary designs suggest the 600- to 800-foot-long gate, located either at the Fred Hartman Bridge or Morgan’s Point, would cost about $1.5 billion.
The question faced by the scientists now is: How best to move the concept of the “Centennial Gate” from academia and into a physical reality?
“We really need to find ourselves a political champion,” said Phil Bedient, a Rice University civil engineer and one of the gate’s chief proponents. “That’s what we’re going to do during the next few months.”
Hanadi Rifai, a University of Houston environmental engineer, has been studying how chemical industries along the Ship Channel would be affected had a stronger version of Hurricane Ike hit about 25 miles farther south along the coast, which would have pushed a much larger storm surge into Galveston Bay.
She found that if a Hurricane Ike with just 15 percent stronger winds hit near San Luis Pass, it would have devastating effects on the Ship Channel industries.
Tallying up losses to facilities, downtime, productivity and environmental charges, such a storm would produce an estimated $148 billion in economic losses to the Ship Channel.
“The question is not whether we need to do something, the question is what do we do,” Rifai said.
The first mention of this alternate idea was two years ago; see here and here for the previous incarnation. When you put it in the context that Prof. Rifai does, it sure does seem like a worthwhile idea. SciGuy goes further than that.
A gate, frankly, is a no-brainer. It is the lowest of low-hanging fruit for this region when it comes to better preparing ourselves for a large hurricane.
But I’m told by organizers of the Centennial Gate concept that Harris County officials — that would be commissioners and the county judge — have yet to express much interest in a gate.
The implication from this apparent disinterest is that it’s more important to ask the public for $217 million to repair a building whose best days are behind it than addressing the ship channel’s vulnerability. Someone needs to show some leadership and cobble together a coalition of public money, industry investment and federal funds to build a gate that would protect the region’s economy and environment. Such a gate would also very likely increase industrial investment in the ship channel, knowing that facilities built there would be hardened against the region’s sole major natural disaster.
As Ben Franklin once said, “An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.” The problem with building the Centennial Gate is that it requires government officials to be proactive, rather than reactive.
To be fair, they have to come up with a way to finance the thing – $1.5 billion is a lot less than $148 billion, but 1) it’s still a lot of money; 2) the risk of a multi-billion dollar loss due to hurricane damage is hard to quantify – it’s not nothing, but it’s hardly inevitable, and; 3) the voters still need to be convinced. This is a process, and these things take time, just as the Astrodome referendum was years in the making. It’s just that in the matter of the Ike floodgate, the question of time is a bet. See the SSPEED homepage and the floodgate brochure for more.