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Galveston County
Rice Design Alliance Forum
by Jim Guidry
Thursday, August 20, 2009

The Rice Design Alliance hosted a public forum on storm surge mitigation at Houston's Museum of Fine Arts on Wednesday.

Thomas M. Colbert, director of graduate studies at the University of Houston Gerald D. Hines College of Architecture and a member of the board of the Rice Design Alliance, welcomed the audience and introduced the speakers. Listen: RealPlayer  MP3

Dr. William Merrell, past president of Texas A&M University at Galveston and a world respected oceanographer, led the discussion with a review of his proposed Ike Dike. Listen: RealPlayer  MP3

Merrell has proposed construction of a flood barrier extending from the Galveston Seawall to the Bolivar Peninsula and the West End of Galveston Island, with Dutch-style flood gates at Bolivar Roads and San Luis Pass to block a hurricane driven storm surge from entering Galveston Bay.

"The Ike Dike provides comprehensive protection from storm surge, protects people, properties and our industrial base, our nationally important region and reduces vulnerability," Merrell said. "It costs much less than a single hurricane recovery, probably costs less than arming the entire bay complex."

He said the dike would also protect the ecology of Galveston Bay.

Dr. William Kiene, a scientist with the National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Association, proposed creation of a levee system around the east end of Galveston, similar to the Texas City-La Marque levee system. Listen: RealPlayer  MP3  

Kiene recalled that the United States Army Corps of Engineers proposed such a levee system in the late 1970s.

"The Texas City levee was able to protect that community and it stayed dry," Kiene said. "What I am advocating is designing a way that Galveston can remain a place where people are going to want to live, that businesses are going to want to invest, and a place to raise a family, where the risks of doing so can be reduced."

Merrell and Kiene are both Galveston residents.

The third speaker, environmental attorney Jim Blackburn, suggested that some hard structure levees might be considered for work centers such as ports, petrochemical complexes and the NASA complex in Bay Area Houston, but was opposed to either system proposed by Merrell or Kiene. Listen: RealPlayer  MP3

Blackburn encouraged leaders to consider alternative methods such as expanding existing wildlife refuges, working with coastal landowners to limit future development and possibly turning the Bolivar Peninsula into a national seashore. He suggested that full disclosure be required for future real estate purchases, an end to subsidized flood and wind insurance and require much higher slab elevations.

Following the presentations, the three men participated in a question and answer session. Listen: RealPlayer  MP3

Merrell was asked how long it would take to build the Ike Dike.  He noted that Blackburn suggested that it would be a 20 year process.

"He may be right," Merrell said. "He is a very effective attorney."

Blackburn and Kiene both complimented Merrell on starting the discussion with his Ike Dike proposal.

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Remembering Jim Guidry

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