Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Should we rebuild Galveston?

From The Houston Chronicle's SciGuy:

Everyone remembers the discussion after Hurricane Katrina: Should we rebuild New Orleans?

No authority stepped up to carry on the debate, and so the city, to the extent residents have desired, has been rebuilt without restriction. The result is that, just three years later, a category 2 hurricane that made landfall nearly 100 miles away almost toppled the city's extensive levee system. Heck, even Hurricane Ike overtopped one of New Orleans' levees. The city remains exceptionally vulnerable.

If we asked the rebuild question about New Orleans, then, it's perfectly legitimate to ask it about Galveston and the upper Texas coast.

The city and its environs rest on barrier islands, which are made of sand, low-lying and prone to significant geological shifts. In Galveston's case, even before Ike's landfall, the island was both sinking slowly and becoming sharply eroded along its west end.

Moreover, a couple of years ago, the city itself commissioned University of Texas geologist Jim Gibeaut to create a geohazards map for the island, that is, where should development not occur?

The research study found that nearly all the development along the beach front west of the seawall, which protects the core of the island, is in "red" or "yellow" zones, where Gibeaut says development should not occur.

Galveston's leaders promptly ignored the study, allowing the continued development of a 1,000-acre west-end development, with about 4,000 new homes and a pair of hotels. All told, more than $2 billion in commercial and residential construction was under way at the time of Ike's arrival....MORE