Gulf Coast Protection and Recovery District, the six-county group formed by Governor Rick Perry to consider options for storm surge protection on the Upper Texas Gulf Coast, on Friday hosted a meeting with a delegation from the Netherlands, a country that has pioneered technology to protect against tidal surges. The delegation, led by Ambassador Renée Jones-Bos, was in Houston for the opening of a Netherlands Business Support Office on Thursday. Article
“The Governor asked if I would put together a citizens commission,” said former Harris County judge Robert Eckels, who is president of the GCPRD, explaining the group’s establishment. “We started looking at how we could regionally come together beyond jurisdictions.” Listen: MP3 RealPlayer
Eckels said that Dannenbaum Engineering, sponsor of the meeting, had been selected as engineering consultant to the GCPRD. Jim Dannenbaum, the firm’s chair, introduced Colonel Leonard Waterworth, a former district engineer for the Galveston District of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, who is president of Dannenbaum.
Waterworth credited Dr. William Merrell of Texas A&M University at Galveston for proposing the creation of a storm surge barrier system, which he named the Ike Dike.
“That has really put a lot of energy on creative thinking on how to protect our coastline,” Waterworth said. “Protect our people, protect our economy, protect the environment.”
Waterworth said that the six counties in the Gulf Coast Protection and Recovery District – Brazoria, Chambers, Galveston, Harris, Jefferson and Orange – are predominant on the Texas Gulf Coast.
“If you think about the Sabine-Neches and the Houston-Galveston Ship Channel, we’re talking about an area that is somewhere over four million and going to six to seven million in the next 20 to 25 years,” he said. “We are a hub of the petrochemical industry in the United States.”
Waterworth reviewed the history of Galveston Island, including the Great Storm of 1900 and the erection of the Galveston Seawall and grade-raising after the storm.
“The point here is that we had a major disaster in 1900 and we had a major response that had a multiple generation solution,” Waterworth said.
Dannenbaum noted that technology from the Netherlands was used in the projects, “Dutch dredges were the ones that dredged sand that raised the entire island.”
The history review included the Texas City Levee System that protected the area from the Hurricane Ike Storm Surge.
“A lot of our country’s petroleum refining comes from right behind that levee there,” added Owen Parker of Dannenbaum.
Waterworth said that had Hurricane Ike moved ashore 20 miles further to the west it would have driven a 20 to 24 foot storm surge up the Houston Ship Channel to the massive ExxonMobil petrochemical complex and Royal Dutch Shell Oil Company.
“I think it is a very compelling case,” Ambassador Jones-Bos said. “There is a very clear interest at stake. And I think the three areas that you mention, the people, the economy and the environment, all three are very important.” Listen: MP3 RealPlayer
Ambassador Jones-Bos recalled that her family was impacted by a large flood in 1953.
“As a result of that we came to the Delta Programme and that has taken all of my lifetime to build,” she said, noting that it was a multi-generational program. “You do need to look ahead and invest in the long term.”
Dr. Merrell said that interests on the Texas Coast can benefit from the Dutch experience.
“One of the things that impressed me is how, as the Dutch built the Delta project, how they learned,” he said. “They started out just with some dams, so you had fresh water behind it, salt water on the other side. Then they developed the gate systems and taught us how we can ecologically protect things.”
“We are prepared to do whatever could be of use to you,” Ambassador Jones-Bos said.
Gerard Brikkenaar van Dijk, chief representative of the Netherlands Business and Support Office in Houston, offered immediate assistance.
“We are going to have an intern from the Netherlands work for the next six to eight weeks in Houston, with Dannenbaum, to see how he can identify specific Dutch solutions,” van Dijk said. Listen: MP3 RealPlayer