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Texas City Dike oil spill should be wake-up call - The Galveston County Daily News : Editorials

November 26, 2014

Texas City Dike oil spill should be wake-up call

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Posted: Monday, June 16, 2014 12:00 am

A proponent and a critic of the proposed Ike Dike recently said the same thing. They said the oil spill near the Texas City Dike ought to be a wake-up call.

The spill, which resulted in a collision between a barge and a cargo ship, was relatively minor. But it still shut down the Houston Ship Channel for days, with repercussions to the nation’s supply of fuels and petrochemicals.

If that was a minor problem, what would a real disaster look like?

What would happen if a hurricane toppled the tanks that store the really toxic stuff at plants along the bay?

How long would major ports, refineries and plants be shut down? Months? A year? How long would it take to clean up? Would the bay ever recover?

Such concerns led to the proposed Centennial Gate, a storm barrier near the Hartman Bridge at La Porte and Baytown. That project was relatively inexpensive and could be built quickly. It would protect an area where those large tanks, refineries and plants are concentrated.

The project would offer some assurance that those facilities wouldn’t pollute the whole bay if a hurricane struck.

However, five communities, worried the proposed protection of the upper ship channel would flood them, passed resolutions against the Centennial Gate. Other communities along Galveston Bay complained that the Centennial Gate concept would do nothing for them.

Eighteen local governments have passed resolutions in favor of the Ike Dike, which envisions a barrier along Galveston Island and Bolivar Peninsula. Massive gates would close Bolivar Roads if a hurricane struck. It’s a plan to protect the whole bay.

But critics ask good questions:

• Some models suggest that a residual surge could be devastating. After the eye of a hurricane passed over the Ike Dike, the storm would produce surge in the bay, pushing water back toward Galveston. What protection would the Ike Dike provide?

• Many of the houses on Galveston’s West End are elevated to 15 feet. Is there going to be enough benefit to justify the cost of a wall in front of those homes? And if so, how high would that wall have to be?

• The flood control systems in The Netherlands are more complicated than a single dike, and Bolivar Roads is formidable.

Is a floodgate across that entrance to the bay even possible? And if it is, how do you justify the cost?

There are many questions — and they ought to be treated as questions, rather than as criticisms.

Somehow, it ought to be possible to get those who have high hopes for the Ike Dike and those opposed to come together for a discussion, rather than a fight.

Both groups have something in common. The common ground is a belief that something should be done to prevent the kind of environmental disaster all parties can foresee.