INSIGHT: 5 things about the Ike Dike, a surge barrier for Texas coast

The idea of a surge barrier along the Texas coast has been around for years. The Ike Dike is a proposal from professor Bill Merrell of Texas A&M University at Galveston in response to the extensive damage created by Hurricane Ike in September 2008.

It made headlines again in April, when Texas Land Commissioner George P. Bush sent a letter to President Trump asking for federal funds to protect the Houston/Galveston bay area, which has an estimated 7 million residents and generates $800 million a year in tax revenue through wildlife tourism.

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The conversation was renewed this week after Harvey — a Category 4 hurricane, the second-highest classification— inundated the Texas coast on Friday, causing widespread destruction.

Merrell, the project’s designer, recently explained his vision in a letter to the Statesman. Here are five things to know about the project:

1) The sea level along the coast is rising. “Surge suppression for Houston and Galveston is an imperative, not a nicety,” Merrell wrote to the Statesman in July. “The Galveston Bay region desperately needs protection from hurricane-induced storm surge soon. Engineered storm barriers are the only solutions that can accomplish this — and the coastal spine/Ike Dike concept is by far the best and most widely supported approach.”

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2) The Ike Dike would have three important features: sand-covered dunes with hardened cores to be constructed on Galveston island’s west end and on the Bolivar Peninsula; surge gates that would close during storms but maintain access to Galveston Bay; and raised coastal highways to provide more protection during storm surge.

3) The project, also called the “Hurricane Wall,” would take two years to build. Bush requested $15 billion for the project. It has the support of 29 cities around the bay and the Texas Legislature, which passed a resolution encouraging Congress to advance the concept, Merrill wrote.

4) Bush wrote that the project would be designed to withstand a “100-year event” and that the site, which extends from Orange County to Brazoria County, is poised to “turn dirt as early as next year.” A “100-year-event” means an area has a 1-in-500 chance of flooding in any given year.

5) The project has its critics. Environmentalists worry about what effect the Ike Dike would have on endangered turtles in the area, as well as its effect on other marine life. “Are we ready to face reduced circulation, decreased salinity and the impediment on fish and shellfish migration?,” wrote Joanie Steinhaus of the Turtle Island Restoration Network.

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