Rice University researchers are concerned about the Army Corps of Engineers and the Texas General Land Office’s preferred $31 billion proposal to protect the Houston-Galveston region from devastating storm surge.
A group of Rice professors plan to raise questions about the coastal protection project of levees and sea gates, known as the “Ike Dike,” during the public comment period, the Houston Chronicle reported. The plan, named after the 2008 hurricane that caused more than $30 billion in damages to the region, is being studied before the agencies send the proposal to Congress to consider funding.
Plans for the complex 70-mile (113-kilometer) system running from High Island to the San Luis Pass are still at least a decade away from being finished, according to the newspaper.
The Corps and the Texas General Land Office released the first phase of a coastal protection study last month. The agencies expect to release a final study in 2021.
But Rice University professor Jim Blackburn said the Corps’ initial study was incomplete and didn’t account for more powerful storms that’ve swept through the Gulf Coast and the Caribbean in recent years.
The 2017 hurricanes Harvey, Irma and Maria each were more powerful than Hurricane Ike and had characteristics that are rarely seen in major storms, Blackburn said.
“The storms that are being analyzed by the Corps are, in my opinion, too small,” Blackburn said. “They’re just not making landfall at the worst locations, with the type of wind fields and characteristics we’re seeing.”
The Corps’ study didn’t consider the worst possible storm tracts that could hit the Houston area and used an outdated modeling system to predict the effects of storms on its proposed barrier, said Larry Dunbar, a project manager at the university’s Severe Storm Prediction, Education & Evacuation from Disasters (SSPEED) Center.
SSPEED is proposing a mid-bay gate to protect Galveston Bay, but the Corps has questioned such a measure because of its impact on oyster beds in the bay.
“I think we need options,” Blackburn said. “If all of our eggs are in a $30 billion federal appropriation, that just sounds too risky to me.”
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