By Mary Alys Cherry
It’s not a question of if but when will another massive hurricane slam the Texas Gulf Coast. We’ve heard it said over and over ever since Hurricane Ike ravaged our homes and businesses back in 2008.
Bay Area Houston Economic Partnership President Bob Mitchell said it again when he addressed the Clear Lake Area Chamber’s July 27 monthly luncheon at Lakewood Yacht Club in Seabrook.
This time as he did, he looked out over the crowd of business men and women, educators and homeowners, hoping for assistance.
“We need help. We need money from the state to finance additional studies of the problem, and we need money from the federal government to pay for the $11 billion needed to build the Coastal Spine and ‘Ike Dike’ gate across the mouth of Galveston Bay to hold back the storm surge, which does most of the damage.
“Most of all, we need you to encourage our elected officials on all levels to support storm surge suppression,” he said.
He wants each of us to write, email, call, contact our legislators and congressmen to help us, even congressional representatives you may know in other states.
That’s why we send them to Washington – to help us when we need help.
Aid for New Orleans
It shouldn’t be a problem for Congress. When New Orleans was hit by Katrina, Mitchell said, the city received $14.5 billion from the federal government and another $1.8 billion for a pumping system to protect its 340,000 residents when future storms hit. Its economic value to the nation, Mitchell said, is less than 1/16th of the economic impact of the Houston area.
Congress also came to the aid of New York when Tropical Storm Sandy did millions of dollars in damages.
Then, Mitchell turned the crowd’s attention to the local region. “The Houston-Galveston area is the nation’s fifth largest Metropolitan Statistical Area with more than 6.5 million residents. One in four Texas residents live along the Gulf Coast,” he said, pointing out some interesting facts:
- Houston is the global leader in three important industries – energy, life sciences and aerospace.
- Houston is home to the world famous Texas Medical Center and NASA’s Johnson Space Center.
- Houston is home to 24 Fortune 500 corporate headquarters.
But why is protecting the area important to the state and nation?
- The Houston-Galveston region encompasses the nation’s largest petrochemical complex, which supplies 40 percent of American’s specialty chemical products.
- The Houston region provides 27 percent of America’s gasoline supply, 60 percent of its jet fuel and 80 percent of the Department of Defense military fuel runs through the port.
- By air or sea, Houston offers vital distribution channels and connects America to the world’s marketplace.
- The Galveston Bay estuary is a sanctuary for wildlife and fishing enthusiasts and produces more seafood than any bay in the nation, except Chesapeake Bay.
History of the effort
Mitchell also traced the history of the Coastal Spine storm surge protection project: how Dr. Bill Merrell of Texas A&M-Galveston proposed an “Ike Dike” back in 2009 to protect the area; how officials made two exploratory trips to The Netherlands to learn how the Dutch protected their land from surge; work with the congressional delegation; and the five studies initiated on economic impact, environmental mitigation, barrier designs and cost/benefit ratios.
Over the years, more than a hundred presentations have been given to various municipal and community groups, he said, adding that 50 city councils and other community groups had passed resolutions in support of the coastal spine concept, including the Harris County Mayors and Councils’ Association and the East Harris County Manufacturers Association.
“BAHEP believes the Coastal Spine is the best available surge protection system for the Houston/Galveston region:
- It utilizes the latest technologies, already proven to work in The Netherlands and elsewhere;
- It stops the surge at the coast, where it’s the smallest;
- It doesn’t harm neighboring communities.”
Now we need help in getting the money.