9 years after storm, 'Ike Dike' still under discussion

GALVESTON, Texas (KTRK) -- Tropical Storm Cindy marks the start of the ninth hurricane season since Hurricane Ike devastated the upper Texas coast. On the eve of Cindy's anticipated arrival, Houston-Galveston storm planners remain optimistic the long-discussed Ike Dike will still be built.

The plan - originally proposed in 2009 - aims to protect the upper Texas coast from the Texas-Louisiana border all the way to Freeport. Most of the protection would come in the form of earthen levees along the coast. Some of them would be fortified with steel.

The most difficult (and expensive) piece of the plan is the 1,200-foot-wide storm gate across the mouth of the Galveston Bay. The bay is far wider. The gate in the middle would be surrounded by levees with lift gates that could rise and lower depending on the level of surge.

A similar gate started operating in 1997 near Rotterdam in The Netherlands. ABC13 traveled there in 2009 with Galveston scientists who were pitching the idea back then.

Fast forward six years, the State of Texas funded a detailed study on the plan in 2014. That study report is due this fall and could open the door for federal approval. The study is managed by the Gulf Coast Community Protection and Recovery District. Galveston County Judge Mark Henry chairs the group.

"The storm surge protection plan is very much still alive," Henry told ABC13 as he prepared for the arrival of Tropical Storm Cindy.

The District hopes the study will qualify as a federal Environmental Impact Statement. If so, it could lead to federal funding. The latest estimate suggests the six-county plan could cost upwards of $12 billion. Local leaders' preferred method is with a direct congressional allocation, but they admit that is unlikely. The other option is through the US Army Corps of Engineers. That could take until 2023 before construction gets underway.

Henry hopes it doesn't take another storm to convince the feds to build it.

"I am confident that someday something will get built. Unfortunately, we are a reactionary society at times - especially the government - and I fear it will take another disaster such as New Orleans for people to say we've had the plan on the shelf for a while. Let's fund it and get it built."

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