Rice U group finds fault with Ike Dike proposal

December 1st, 2018

By Mary Alys Cherry

Ten years after the storm surge from Hurricane Ike devastated the Galveston Bay area, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers announced plans Oct. 26 for what is considered a more ambitious version of the proposed Coastal Spine or Ike Dike, as the project to protect the region.

The Corps proposes building a 70-mile-long coastal barrier to protect the Texas coastline from future storm surge, at a cost of somewhere between $23 and $31 billion – considerably higher than the original projection, which was for a smaller project.

Four days later on Oct. 31 Moody’s Investors Service gave its stamp of approval, noting that the proposed system would protect a region that contributes 24 percent of the state’s gross domestic product (GDP) and is home to the largest manufacturing center in the United States along the Houston Ship Channel and to one fourth of Texas’ population.
Now the federal agency’s plan has come under attack.

Just as most of the area population was glad that at long last, something was going to be done to protect us came headlines that the folks over at Rice University’s Severe Storm Prediction, Education and Evaluation from Disasters Center were questioning the Corps of Engineers’ proposal, charging that the Corps’ information was out of date.

This did not sit well with Bay Area Houston Economic Partnership President Bob Mitchell, who worked for several years with UTMB Galveston Prof. Bill Merrell, Texas Land Commissioner George P. Bush and others trying to get the coastal spine project approved and financed.

“I think it is very unfortunate,” Mitchell said, “that Rice SSPEED Center has elected to attack the work that the Corps of Engineers has done in support of the ‘coastal spine’ and its ‘tentatively selected plan.’ There is a process that we go through in the form of hearings and written testimony that allows organizations and individuals to ask for clarification or to present ideas and changes they may think are important. “Rice SSPEED Center, in my opinion, should follow the process like the rest of us and try to be part of the team and not adversarial. This is not the time to see who can yell the loudest but a time to work together.”

Instead of being glad to finally see the federal agency come up with a plan to protect the area, SSPEED officials questioned the proposal, just as they had done after UTMB Galveston Prof. Bill Merrell proposed building the Ike Dike in 2009. Back then, instead of protecting homes and businesses in Galveston and the Bay Area communities with an Ike Dike to stop storm surge, the Rice SSPEED Center felt it was more important to protect industry along the Houston Ship Channel than those homes, schools and businesses in the Galveston Bay area. Finally, when they found everyone else favored the Ike Dike/Coastal Spine concept, SSPEED officials dropped their proposal.

But once the Corps of Engineers released its proposal, SSPEED officials found fault with the study. They said the proposal was incomplete as it did not account for the recent stronger storms and that the Corps information was out of date – assertions that were quickly disputed by the Corps. In addition to the Ike Dike, the Rice group proposes building a midbay seagate to protect the Houston Ship Channel and Harris County from storm surge. Their suggestion is much the same as their earlier proposal. And, just as before, they want to protect industry; and they don’t appear to care what happens to Kemah, Seabrook, Nassau Bay, Dickinson, El Lago, Taylor Lake Village, Clear Lake City, Friendswood, Santa Fe, Alvin, Pearland, Texas City, La Marque, League City, Webster and Galveston.

The Houston Chronicle also was upset with their actions, pointing out in an editorial that protecting the coastal region from the devastation suffered during Ike and Harvey “is far too important to let a fight over the path forward leach away the project’s necessary momentum before it ever has a chance,”

“It’s worth cheering that we’ve arrived at wide support for the coastal spine project, a system of floating gates intended to ward off storm surge….When was the last time officials from Houston, Harris County, the coastal region and the State of Texas have all been on the same page about spending (billions) in mostly federal dollars to help this region? How about never?”

“Critics and supporters of the Ike Dike should take care to help steer but not divert the ship that is finally on course to becoming reality,” the Chronicle added.

We agree. We’ve waited far too long for some action, and the Army Corps of Engineers has worked more hours than they can probably count to get this far. The SSPEED officials should submit their thoughts at one of the public hearings just like everyone else, instead of trying to make headlines and disrupt the process.

A series of six public meetings have been scheduled in November and December by the Corps for public comment on the proposal with the first held Nov. 27 in Port Lavaca. Others are planned in Seabrook, Corpus Christi, Port Isabel, Winnie and Galveston.

The Seabrook meeting will be held Tuesday, Dec. 18 at the Bay Area Community Center in Clear Lake Park from 5:30 p.m. to 9. The Galveston meeting will be on Wednesday, Dec. 12 in the Galveston Island Convention Center, 5600 Seawall Blvd., also from 5:30 p.m. to 9. For a complete list or information on how to submit public comment, visit the Army Corps of Engineers website, http://coastalstudy.texas.gov/get-involved/index.html

A final study is to be released in 2021 before sending it to Congress for funding.

Time has come to get serious about protecting our region and the nation

October 1st, 2017

BAHEP President Bob Mitchell, at the podium, prepares to roll-out dynamic new storm surge protection video during a media event held Sept. 12 at Houston City Hall. Shown, from left are: Houston City Council Members Karla Cisneros, Dave Martin, David Robinson, Jack Christie, standing behind Mayor Sylvester Turner, and Mayor Pro-Tem Ellen R. Cohen. Next to Cohen are State Sen. Sylvia Garcia, State Rep. Dennis Paul, and Stephen C. Costello, City of Houston chief resilience officer and “flood czar.”

By Kathryn Paradis

Victor Hugo, a French writer famous for penning Les Misérables, among many other works, wrote, “All the forces in the world are not so powerful as an idea whose time has come.” Following the massive destruction of Hurricane Harvey, roughly estimated to have caused $150 billion in damages, it appears that the time has finally come to take storm surge protection for the upper Texas Gulf coast under serious consideration.

On Tuesday, Sept. 12, 2017, less than 24 hours shy of the ninth anniversary of Hurricane Ike, the Bay Area Houston Economic Partnership and the City of Houston rolled out the second in a series of videos produced to promote the critical need for a coastal spine system, an “Ike Dike” if you will, to protect the people, homes, businesses, industries and economies of the region, state, and nation.

The film, Unprepared – A Nation at Risk, produced by Space City Films and funded by the Bay Area Coastal Protection Alliance, takes a hard look at the consequences of Houston suffering a direct hit from a major hurricane.

Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner, surrounded by members of city council and other stakeholders, led the media event by stating, “I don’t think there is a better time to have this conversation than right now. As we work diligently to get back on track after the devastating effects of Hurricane Harvey, we are also keeping our eyes on the vital need for strong surge protection in our region.”

“It is very difficult,” he emphasized, “to have a conversation about rebuilding if we don’t have a serious conversation about mitigation … It needs to be a part of the rebuilding process.”

San Jacinto College Chancellor Dr. Brenda Hellyer says hello to Col. Len Waterworth, Texas A&M Galveston executive professor.

The mayor continued, “I think that Hurricane Harvey was a warning sign that we need to start talking, and, quite frankly, we need to start designing and building. There is no reason that in the package before Congress that they are considering that the coastal spine should not be fully funded.”

Mayor Turner then invited BAHEP President Bob Mitchell to address the media and others in the overflow crowd in the Legacy Room at Houston City Hall. BAHEP, in partnership with Texas A&M University at Galveston among many others, has been working since 2009 to gain support for a coastal spine system.

“We’ve actually been able to accomplish more in the last 10 months than we have in the previous seven years,” Mitchell told the crowd, pointing out that the accomplishments would not have been possible without the assistance of many people, notably Dr. Bill Merrell of Texas A&M Galveston, the “father” of the coastal spine concept. “Without his foresight and creativity, there is no way that we would be standing here today,” Mitchell said.

He invited everyone to watch the video, which spoke of Texas storms and their consequences, featured interviews with hurricane experts and elected officials, and outlined the potential financial impact on the nation of such storms and the aftermath of a major storm surge barreling up the Houston Ship Channel. The dynamic video can be viewed on YouTube at https://youtu.be/v_Ez1Xvkjqo.

Ike Dike at the top of Mayor Turner’s to do list

August 1st, 2017

There was no shortage of folks on hand to greet Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner when he arrived at Bay Oaks Country Club in Clear Lake for the Clear Lake Chamber Government Affairs Committee meeting. With him are, from left, League City Mayor Pat Hallisey, Chamber President Cindy DeWease, Kemah Mayor Carl Joiner, Miss Texas USA Nancy Gonzalez and State Rep. Dennis Paul.

Jordan McGinty, right, of Councilman Dave Martin’s office, stops to chat with Dawn McDonald of State Rep. Dennis Paul’s office at the Clear Lake Area Chamber Government Affairs Committee meeting.

THE CLEAR LAKE Area Chamber’s Government Affairs Division drew quite a crowd when members held their quarterly meeting at Bay Oaks Country Club.

Little wonder they did. They had Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner as their speaker and invited Miss Texas USA Nancy Gonzalez to introduce the mayor.

Early arrivals included State Rep. Dennis Paul, League City Mayor Pat Hallisey, Kemah Mayor Carl Joiner, who is also the chamber chairman, Houston City Councilman Dave Martin, Chamber President Cindy DeWease and Vice Chairman Brian Freedman.

The mayor discussed a variety of subjects, initially letting the crowd know how lucky this area is to be represented by Councilman Martin and Representative Paul and how he has enjoyed working with them in the past and how he looks forward to working with them in the future.
Especially so on the Coastal Spine – commonly referred to as the Ike Dike – which he said “is at the top of my to do list.”

After praising San Jacinto College for its workforce readiness programs and all it has been doing to put students in jobs and help industry fill jobs, he noted that there are six million jobs in the U.S. that cannot be filled because applicants do not have the proper training.

That led into a hot topic for Clear Lake City, where a woman wants to put a homeless shelter on El Camino Real in the heart of its downtown area and only two blocks from homes. The mayor, who first heard about it from TV, wanted his audience to know that the city had nothing to do with it, that no permits had been obtained and it is not a simple process.

“It is not a city deal,” he said, adding the he did not think shelters were the answer. “The best way to respond to homelessness is to put people in housing, not shelters. Please, please know that is not something that is on the drawing board, and there is no funding for it,” he cautioned.

Turning to the national infrastructure program proposed by President Trump, the mayor thought the Coastal Spine project should be included. Meanwhile he said, he had learned that Washington is toying with ideas on how to pay for all the proposed projects.

Among a number of thoughts he shared with the crowd, he said he thinks we need a theme park that is uniquely us — a fun and amusing park but unique to our region.

Splashdown Party draws happy crowd

Dr. Mike Romanko and his wife, Mitzi, give the peace sign so popular in the 60s at the Lunar Rendezvous Splashdown Party.

BACK IN THE SIXTIES, a coveted invitation got one into a Splashdown Party when friends and neighbors welcomed astronauts back from journeys into space.

Fifty years later, the tradition goes on. Except this time it was, well, a little different. Co-Chairmen Kristy Tankersley, Renee Ditta and Linda DeMasie wanted this Lunar Rendezvous Splashdown Party to be a night of fun – a night to remember. And, that it was. It also kicked off the Festival’s string of July activities, which include a 5K fun run and walk, fashion show, religious service and the Coronation Ball.

Festival Chairman Dinah Matthews, right, and Vice Chairman Tisa Foster prepare to greet guests.

Most dressed in 60s attire and flashed peace signs as they danced to the music of Phil Pampolina with the co-chairmen and their husbands – Jon Tankersley, Judge Louie Ditta and Michael DeMasie — leading the way as Mercedes-Benz dealer Jerry Foyt and his wife, Kate, hosted the event at the dealership in League City.

Both Festival Chairman Dinah Matthews and Vice Chairman Tisa Foster were there to welcome Michael and Ann Wismer Landolt, Tom and Gloria Wong, Ann and Dr. Jim O’Malley, Ron and Pat Biddle Karl, Angie and Matthew Weinman, Gene Hollier, Phil and Ginger Pampolina, Alice and Lou Marinos, Mary Ann Shallberg and Mitzi and Dr. Mike Romanko, to name a few.

Special guests were Ch. 13 ABC News Anchor Tom Koch and his wife, Brenda.

Great way to kick off the string of festival events.

Ike Dike coastal barrier getting national attention

June 1st, 2017

By Mary Alys Cherry

After eight long years of trying to get help with the proposed Coastal Barrier System to protect the Galveston Bay area from storm surge, we are finally getting some national attention.

Just last month help came from Texas Land Commissioner George P. Bush, who sent a letter to President Trump that was signed by 60 Bay Area mayors, city officials, state legislators and business leaders, asking for financial help with the $15 billion project.

Bay Area Houston Economic Partnership President Bob Mitchell and UTMB officials Dr. Bill Merrill and Col. Len Waterworth and many others who have worked to make the project possible were delighted to learn that CNN TV news channel made note of the Bush request and also was running a four-part series on the proposal and how badly it is needed.

The series suggests that the president forget that border wall and instead protect the millions of American lives and businesses along the Texas coast with a hurricane wall.

“Texas lawmakers are asking President Donald Trump to help them build a wall — no, not that wall. Instead of a border wall built to keep immigrants from crossing into the state illegally, this wall would protect the critically important cities of Houston and Galveston from the devastating storm surge of a powerful hurricane,” the CNN series begins.

Using points made in Bush’s letter about how critically important the Houston and Galveston Bay areas are to our national infrastructure, “with 428 million tons of cargo flowing through the region annually,” CNN also explains that the Port of Houston is the second busiest port in the United States.

“The region is also a critical hub for the nation’s petrochemical resources. The nation’s largest Strategic Petroleum Reserve is in Freeport — which is responsible for over half the country’s jet fuel and the No. 1 energy supplier to the U.S. Military — which makes protecting it ‘crucial to national security,’” Bush said in the letter.

“The Houston and Galveston Bay area produces more than 3 million direct and indirect jobs nationwide, yet remains largely unprotected from storm surge nearly a decade after Hurricane Ike devastated the upper coast of Texas, killing 74 people and causing $29.5 billion in damages,” he continued.

“The deadly storm was the third most devastating hurricane in U.S. history, which missed the Port of Houston; however, a direct hit from the hurricane would have resulted in more than $100 billion in damages. The coastal barrier system proposed would be built to a 100-year event standard, and modeling has concluded that it would have prevented 87 percent of the damages incurred by Hurricane Ike.

The Houston/Galveston area is home to the largest and most important concentration of petroleum refining and petrochemical processing plants in the United States, which often find their properties storm victims, as the region is hit by a major hurricane about every 15 years.

Hurricane Ike caused approximately $35 billion in damages, loss of life and considerable damage to the natural environment, yet it was not nearly as destructive as future hurricanes could be.

Houston is the global leader in three important industries – energy, life sciences and aerospace. Other points for the president to ponder:

  • Houston is home to the world famous Texas Medical Center and NASA’s Johnson Space Center.
  • The city is home to 24 Fortune 500 corporate headquarters.
  • 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.

Commissioner Bush’s letter seeking presidential help for the proposed coastal barrier system was co-signed by 60 Texas leaders including members of the Texas Legislature, 21 coastal mayors, six county judges and more than two dozen members of the business and education communities.

“Building the proposed coastal barrier system is a historic opportunity to safeguard our nation’s economy, our national security and millions of citizens’ lives and livelihood,” Bush wrote.

Joining him in co-signing his letter were:
Dr. William J. Merrell, Texas A&M Galveston, Ike Dike Founder
Bob Mitchell, President, Bay Area Houston Economic Partnership
Robert Eckels, President, Gulf Coast Community Protection and Recovery District
Dr. Samuel D. Brody, Director, Center for Texas Beaches and Shores
Bob Harvey, President & CEO, Greater Houston Partnership
Vicki Fullerton, Chairman of the Board, Texas Association of Realtors
Hector Rivero, President & CEO, Texas Chemical Council
Scott Joslove, President & CEO, Texas Hotel & Lodging Association
Todd Staples, President, Texas Oil and Gas Association
Earl Shipp, Vice President of Gulf Coast Operations, Dow Chemical
James F. Thompson, Chief Executive, Global Programs, AECOM
James D. Dannenbaum, President & CEO, Dannenbaum Engineering
William L. Raba, President, Raba Kistner
David C. Fisher, Director & CEO, Port of Beaumont
Floyd Gaspard, Port Director, Port of Port Arthur
L.M. “Matt” Sebesta Jr., County Judge, Brazoria County
Jimmy Sylvia, County Judge, Chambers County
Mark Henry, County Judge, Galveston County
Ed Emmett, County Judge, Harris County
Jeff Branick, County Judge, Jefferson County
Stephen Brint Carlton, County Judge, Orange County
Sylvia Garcia, State Senator, District 6
Larry Taylor, State Senator, District 11
Dr. Greg Bonnen, State Representative, District 24
John P. Cyrier, State Representative, District 17
Joe Deshotel, State Representative, District 22
Wayne Faircloth, State Representative, District 23
Dennis Paul, State Representative, District 129
Dade Phelan, State Representative, District 21
Theresa Rodriguez, President, Bay Area Houston Transportation Partnership
Mike Shields, Executive Director, Baytown / West Chambers County Economic Development Foundation
Cindy H. DeWease, President & CEO, Clear Lake Area Chamber of Commerce
Craig S. Beskid, Executive Director, East Harris County Manufacturers Association
David S. Murphy, Chairman, Galveston County Economic Development Alliance
Bobby Hocking, President, Galveston County Mayor and Council Members Association
Jeff Sjostrom, President, Galveston Economic Development Partnership
Joyce Calver McLean, Chairman Galveston Island Park Board of Trustees
Gina M. Spagnola, President and CEO, Galveston Regional Chamber of Commerce
Colleen Hicks, President, La Porte-Bayshore Chamber of Commerce
Cheryl Sanders, Mayor, Anahuac
Stephen DonCarlos, Mayor, Baytown
Billy Combs, Mayor, Beach City
Jerry Mouton, Mayor, Deer Park
Julie Masters, Mayor, Dickinson
Robert White, Mayor, El Lago
Kevin M. Holland, Mayor, Friendswood
James D. Yarbrough, Mayor, Galveston
Sylvester Turner, Mayor, Houston
Carl Joiner, Mayor, Kemah
Bobby Hocking, Mayor, La Marque
Louis R. Rigby, Mayor, La Porte
Pat Hallisey, Mayor, League City
Nick Dixon, Mayor, Mont Belvieu
Michel J. Bechtel, Mayor, Morgan’s Point
Mark Denman, Mayor, Nassau Bay
Johnny Isbell, Mayor, Pasadena
Jeff Tambrella, Mayor, Santa Fe
Glenn Royal, Mayor, Seabrook
Jon Keeney, Mayor, Taylor Lake Village
Donna Rogers, Mayor, Webster
Greg Smith, Ph.D., Superintendent, Clear Creek School District
Lloyd W. Graham, Superintendent, La Porte School District