One year after the Hurricane Ike's 20-foot storm surge devastated Galveston, Texas, and surrounding areas, local governments are in the midst of making a decision about the proposed "Ike Dike" - an expansion of the existing Galveston Seawall that would cost the federal government billions of dollars.
The Ike Dike, as proposed by Texas A&M University at Galveston professor William Merrell, would extend the existing seawall by over 50 miles and add floodgates that would close before an approaching hurricane (more details). The idea is based on the Delta Works, a series of dams and barriers that protect the southwest Netherlands from storm surge and coastal flooding.
Supporters suggest that these additions would prevent future damage to Galveston Bay and the Port of Houston, protecting the region's oil production and shipping industry, in addition to Galveston Island's residents, infrastructure and the Galveston National Laboratory, a high-security medical research facility that houses some of the most contagious diseases in the world. Given the estimated $32 billion in damages to the Houston-Galveston area already caused by Ike and the likelihood of another catastrophic hurricane and rising sea levels, the Ike Dike's $2 to 3 billion dollar price tag and ten year timeline could make the project a worthwhile investment.
Opponents voice concern that the proposed storm barrier would alter the fragile Gulf of Mexico ecosystem, cause more coastal erosion and offer no protection from hurricane-force winds, which contributed to damage during Ike. They argue that the region could take alternative actions and that the Ike Dike should not be considered a final solution, but rather one step toward protecting the coast.
The questions remain: if rising sea levels and strong hurricanes remain constant threats to the Gulf Coast, should development along the shoreline and on barrier islands continue? Would the Ike Dike prove to be a lasting solution or just a band-aid to the already-injured subtropical shoreline that will be susceptible to hurricanes indefinitely?