Texas Land Commissioner George P. Bush Asks Trump to Help Build Ike Dike

After Hurricane Ike hit in 2008, Galveston was declared uninhabitable.
After Hurricane Ike hit in 2008, Galveston was declared uninhabitable.
Photo by U.S. Army Corps of Engineers

If you don't ask, you don't get, so Texas Land Commissioner George P. Bush has decided to ask.

Bush, who has been a vocal proponent of the proposed Ike Dike plan to build a coastal barrier system to protect Galveston and Houston took the next big step by sending a letter to Donald Trump asking the president to include $15 billion in federal funds in his national infrastructure plans to actually get the coastal barrier constructed along the Texas Gulf Coast.

The letter, signed by 20 area mayors, including Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner, along with dozens of state lawmakers and professors who have worked on the project, does a good job of selling the idea, noting how Hurricane Ike was a near-miss for the Houston Ship Channel that still caused $30 billion of damage to the Texas coast, and pointing out that the Texas coast port system "is crucial, not only to the United States' economy, but also to our national security."

It even makes the coastal spine project — dubbed the "Ike Dike" when it was first presented, although that's not what supporters like to call it these days — sound like the inevitable and only option to protect the coast.

Of course, that's not entirely accurate.

The coastal spine (aka Ike Dike) was cooked up by Bill Merrill, a Texas A&M-Galveston professor, in the immediate aftermath of Hurricane Ike. Merrill's plan, which has been touted, promoted and worked over by Merrill and other scientists in the nine years since he first came up with it, would span six counties and include a massive floodgate and barrier system created to keep the brunt of storm surge waters out of Galveston Bay and the Houston Ship Channel.

The plan has steadily gained traction and support — partly due to Merrill's lobbying — over the years, but critics say the plan is easy to back because the details are vague and the idea is fairly simple. They insist actually protecting the Texas Gulf Coast will require more options and lines of defense than those provided by Merrill's approach, as we reported in our October cover story. Meanwhile, Merrill insists that his way is the only way to keep everyone in the Houston and Galveston area safe in the face of a perfect storm of a hurricane roaring ashore at precisely the wrong place.

The letter penned by Bush also takes this view, proclaiming that Texas lawmakers and leaders have "all the support necessary" to build the coastal spine and that construction workers will be ready to "turn dirt" as early as next year if they get that one thing they're lacking: The $15 billion needed to actually build it.

In reality, not only does the Ike Dike not have "all the support necessary," there's still no official consensus on what to actually build to protect Houston and Galveston from the perfect  storm. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers is reviewing the issue and says that there's no way to even start construction on any sort of coastal barrier project before 2024 — and they have yet to say what sort of project they're supporting.

There's also the problem of how these things are usually built, because, to put it bluntly, coastal protection systems are almost never built before the catastrophic storm hits. And even if Trump were to hand over the money they're asking for, there's also the chance that it might not be enough. While some estimates put the cost at $15 billion, others maintain it will take double that amount of money to get the coastal spine built.

Once it's built, there's also the question of how the defenses will be maintained and operated. State legislators have filed bills in the House and Senate this term to give counties the ability to collect money for this purpose, but the bills require that the federal government sign on to build the coastal barrier system first. Also, neither bill has even made it out of committee so far.

However, Bush and company haven't let these pesky details get in the way of making their pitch to get Trump to put the coastal barrier system on his list of national infrastructure projects. "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's letter states.

There's no mention of the fact that this particular "historic opportunity" isn't necessarily the only answer to this problem, or the right one, but it may just be enough to persuade Trump to hand over the funding.


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