The Bay Area Houston Economic Partnership hosted a breakfast on Monday for Henne Schuwer, Netherlands Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary to America, based in Washington, D.C.
Schuwer, accompanied by Saskia Pardaans. of the Netherlands Business Support Office in Houston, met with BAHEP select members and elected officials to discuss collaboration with The Netherlands on a number of initiatives, the most pressing being moving forward with the design and construction of a coastal spine and flood gates to protect the coast and upper Galveston Bay, including the Houston Ship Channel from future storm surges like or worse than the area suffered from Hurricane Ike in 2008.
Bob Mitchell, BAHEP president, greeted the ambassador and conducted a roundtable introduction.
Dan Seal, Executive Director of Special Initiatives for BAHEP, presented highlights from the collaboration between BAHEP and the International Maritime Advisory Committee (IMAC). He described how those efforts lead to the coastal spine project known as “The Ike Dike.”
Seal said initially the parties addressed the maritime worker shortage. They decided to focus on K-12 education to build a future workforce. Then, the conversation turned to a regional hurricane protection system after Hurricane Ike struck the area . The partnership also created a nonprofit organization, Bay Area Coastal Alliance (BACPA), to further the cause.
“BACPA has been instrumental in raising money to further and advance the studies that are required to determine what are the best solutions for us,” he said.
Seal said solidifying the relationship with the Netherlands has proven critical. He said they are learning more about coastal protection.
“The Netherlands are clearly the world’s leader in holding back water and have been doing so forever,” he said.
Col. Leonard Waterworth, chairman of the International Maritime Advisory Committee, said the ambassador was visiting at a critical moment in the project. He said consensus exists for a regional protection system but the details are still being discussed.
“Everybody is behind what we call the coastal spine and potential gates,” he said. “(We don't know) exactly what it’s going to look like, how high it’s going to be, how long it’s going to be, but we know that defend well forward is the answer.”
He gave the ambassador a summary of the region and its economic engines. He said national leadership is getting behind the idea of funding the project.
“What we have an issue with now, is when does this project happen and how does it get funded,” Waterworth said. “We are struggling with that. I personally think it is a federal project because of the impact it has on this region and the national economy.”
Waterworth also presented a film produced by Center for Texas Beaches and Shores (CTBS) and BACPA . The film included a demonstration of flood surge prediction software developed by a team headed by Dr. Sam Brody of Texas A&M at Galveston. It allows residents to see how different hurricane scenarios could impact their communities and properties.
Dr. Bill Merrell of Texas A&M at Galveston reviewed the joint projects that Netherlands college students are doing in tandem with Texas A&M students. In the latest initiative, Merrell said student researchers are working to gather information along the Houston Ship Channel, Galveston Island and Clear Lake. They are also studying three sites in the Netherlands.
“I think it is a remarkable collaboration to begin in just four or five years,” he said. He added that grants exist to continue the academic partnership between Texas A&M University and Delft University.
Schuwer said the Netherlands does not consider flood management as a singular project. He said it is a foundational social function and reflected on lessons from 1953. That year, the country was devastated by a flood.
“The remarkable thing, in a way, is not that we built Delta Works after 1953,” he said. “It was one of our biggest disasters. I think the remarkable thing is that seven or eight years ago we said we need Delta Works Two.”
He said if flood defenses are not maintained and investments are not made on a regular basis, one flood could be the end of their country.
Among the elected officials at the table were Texas Senator Larry Taylor and U.S. Congressman Randy Weber. Both thanked the ambassador for his interest in the concerns of the group and asked that he share what he’d learned with his colleagues in Washington, D.C..