Houstonians could be asked to vote on proposal to build gate to protect ship channel


How long ago was Hurricane Ike? It was five years ago in September, and it caused $30 billion in damage. And yet in the five years since, we haven't been hit again and we haven't really done much to prevent another round of severe damage.

"People do forget and I think that's the difficulty about anything related to hurricanes, is they only come every so often. We're not going to need this gate very often, but when you do need it, you really, really need it," said environmental attorney and Rice professor Jim Blackburn.

Blackburn is talking about this. He calls it the centennial gate, It's basically a movable wall that would close in the event of a storm surge, keeping the damaging wave away from the ship channel.

We've been to the Netherlands to see a gate like this in action. Before you call it another hurricane pipe dream, hear him out.

"The ship channel is very vulnerable and it is the economic engine of Houston. If a big hurricane surge comes up the channel, we're all going to be sorry about it," Blackburn said.

Blackburn and a colleague at Rice University's Severe Storm Center have been working on the gate for a few years.

"We're getting the dollar estimates down," Blackburn said.

Blackburn thinks this can be done for just a billion dollars. And on the eve of hurricane season, they are just about ready to ask you to go public with their plan.

A billion dollars? Maybe not as much as you'd think something like this would cost. But it's still a lot of money, and the people behind this project think you will pay it.

This is not the Ike dike. That proposal is still out there but that would along Galveston's shore and could cost more. Blackburn and his team want to put it at the base of the Hartman Bridge to protect the ship channel, the refineries, and the 3-,000 chemical tanks that could be vulnerable in a super storm.

"It's the economic engine of Houston. We can afford to protect it," Blackburn said.

The project could be paid for with local dollars but it would mean a slight tax increase. We did the math. A billion-dollar gate means $150 per average house every year for the next 30 years. Of course, if the cost came down, so would yours, and if industry is asked to pay a little bit more to protect their assets along the channel, it could be cheaper as well.

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