TX ‘Ike Dike’ Unveils Updated Plans
Announced at the end of October, the United States Army Corps of Engineers and the Texas General Land Office released a second draft of its envisioned multi-billion-dollar coastal storm barrier, Ike Dike.
Plans for the barrier have reportedly been in the works since Hurricane Ike rocked Galveston, Texas, in 2008, and are expected to cost anywhere between $23 billion to $32 billion.
Ike Dike Development History
While Hurricane Ike devastated Galveston in 2008, it wasn’t until nearly a decade later when Hurricane Harvey wreaked havoc on the state of Texas that plans were submitted for coastal protection. While the state issued a $61 billion rebuilding plan to Congress only a few months following Harvey, the request also outlined the construction of new infrastructure.
Specifically, in an attempt to future-proof the coast, the rebuild request outlined the building of detention lakes, dredging canals and the construction of the “Ike Dike,” a $12 billion series of “coastal spines.” The three barriers were proposed to prevent incoming storm surges and help water to be pumped out more easily.
Plans to build a coastal storm barrier — also known as the “Ike Dike” — have been in the works since Hurricane Ike devastated Galveston in 2008.— Houston Public Media (@HoustonPubMedia) October 30, 2020
Now, the project is taking another step forward. https://t.co/pjv1Oq1uMJ
After conducting a three-year study on protecting Texas’ coasts from hurricanes and storm surges, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers announced in October 2018 that the 70-mile-long Ike Dike was the preferred choice for the job.
Plans for the coastal barrier, similar to the one originally proposed by Texas A&M University marine science professor Bill Merrell, were developed in a partnership between the Army Corps of Engineers and the Texas General Land Office. At the time, the barrier was estimated to cost as much as $31 billion.
The Ike Dike barrier would consist of a system of levees and sea gates beginning north of High Island, running along Bolivar Peninsula. The coastal barrier would also wind its way across the entrance of Galveston Bay and run the length of Galveston Island, eventually including the pre-existing seawall, ending at San Luis Pass.
At the bay’s entrance a series of storm surge gates would accommodate navigation to a few ports, namely Galveston’s, Texas City’s and Houston’s. A navigation gate, located along the Houston Ship Channel, would close during storms. Galveston would be protected with a ring levee shielding the rear of the island.
Other plans for the Ike Dike include beach and dune restoration along the lower Texas coast. Nine ecosystem restoration projects are also in the works to help increase area resilience.
Despite the promise of these plans, there were a number of environmental concerns: namely potential impact on wetlands and tidal change constriction that would determine the salinity of estuaries, which could have a wider environmental impact.
Only a few weeks after the Corps’ announcement, Rice University researchers also voiced concerns over plans for the project, specifically citing worry over the completeness of the three-year study. Hurricanes Harvey, Irma and Maria were more powerful than 2008’s Hurricane Ike, and according to Rice University professor Jim Blackburn, the storms studied by the Corps were too small.
In turn, the Severe Storm Prediction, Education, & Evacuation from Disasters Center proposed a 25-foot, mid-bay barrier system that could protect Galveston Bay as well as the industrial complexes and populated areas in the bay's northwest and west regions. Blackburn noted that this suggestion is part of a bifurcated system that would include an internal barrier and a coastal barrier. SSPEED’s proposal could also work in conjunction with the Corps’ tentative plan; it could also be built in less time and at a fraction of the cost—$3 billion to $5 billion in comparison.
In response to the proposal, the Corps reportedly remained concerned over the potential impact over oyster beds in the area.
In August of this year, the SSPEED Center reported that it would be moving forward with its proposal.
What’s Happening Now
In wake of Hurricane Laura earlier this year, state officials renewed calls to make the area’s storm barrier a priority and have since released a second draft of the proposed Ike Dike project. The draft incorporates feedback from the initial plan released in 2018 and has also pinned down the project cost to $26.2 billion.
"This hurricane season has given us pause because it’s given us too many close calls not to heed its warning," said Col. Timothy Vail with the Army Corps of Engineers at a press briefing.
According to the Corps, the project has the potential to save the state $2.28 billion annually in storm-associated recovery costs, noting that Hurricane Ike caused $38 billion dollars in damages alone.
"The plan is economically competitive for federal investment, and we are shifting into detailed discussions on how strategically implement this project going forward," said Vail.
Noting on the project’s revisions, one of the biggest changes involves the replacement of a series of levees and floodways previously slated to run parallel to State Highway 87 on Bolivar Peninsula and FM 3005 on Galveston Island with 43 miles of a natural dune and beach system.
The system is reportedly comprised of 14-foot dunes on the landward side and 12-foot dunes on the Gulf, followed by 250 of beach. While the Corps notes that the change will reduce environmental and social impacts, it would also require about 39 million cubic yards of sand for beach and dune construction on both Bolivar Peninsula and West Galveston Island.
Other changes to the project proposal involve updating the storm surge gate between Galveston and Bolivar Peninsula to two 650-foot wide surge gates at the mouth of Galveston Bay, instead of the initially proposed 1,200-foot wide gate. Although the change would reduce the water flow by 10%, the Corps estimates that design change has less of an impact on restricting the flow of water between the bay and the Gulf than previously proposed, adding that the gates would only be closed during the event of a storm.
"We believe that the gate is the first element to be put in place because it's essentially the linchpin of the system; it has a broad effect across the bay and provides benefits to the entire region and not just locally," said Brian Harper, with the Army Corps of Engineers.
Another major revision to the coastal protection system is what the Corps call a “ring barrier system.” The system is comprised of 14-foot-high floodwalls and gates surrounding a 15-mile stretch of Galveston Island’s backside. The updated version also recommends increasing the height of an 8-mile stretch of the existing Galveston Seawall to 21 feet.
The Corps is scheduled to host a series of public meetings about the project over the next two months, with a final report slated to be released in May 2021. Following publication, the Corps will send the report to Congress for approval.
If approved, the Ike Dike barrier project is estimated to take between 12-20 years for design completion and construction.