Need for SSPEED and Centennial Gate

Five years ago today Hurricane Ike struck the Texas Gulf Coast, taking more than two dozen souls and causing the fourth most costly storm in U.S. history. But the fact is, very little has been done structurally since then to improve our region’s readiness for the next big storm.

Rice University’s severe storm research group, called the SSPEED Center, has proposed a handful of reasonable ideas to prepare for hurricane storm surge. One of these ideas is to build a retractable gate near the entrance to the Houston Ship Channel to block a 25’ storm surge from flooding oil refineries, chemical plants and adjacent neighborhoods along the channel and preventing the catastrophic discharge of hydrocarbons and chemicals into Galveston Bay. This concept merits serious consideration.

I began working last December with SSPEED Center directors Jim Blackburn and Phil Bedient to raise awareness of the Centennial Gate project. We started behind the proverbial 8 ball because public attention had already been drawn to the catchy-sounding Ike Dike, a proposal from Texas A&M Galveston to build a 75 mile levy system along the upper Texas coast.  This idea has merit, but the $6 billion-plus price tag would require federal funds; securing those funds simply isn’t going to happen anytime soon.

A key selling point for Centennial Gate is that it can be built with local funds and within a relatively short time span of three to five years. How much it will cost awaits the completion of more detailed engineering, but Rice researchers expect the figure to be about $1.5 billion. It’s important to note that Centennial Gate and the Ike Dike are compatible if resources can be found to pursue both.    

To mark the five year anniversary of Hurricane Ike and share research findings, the SSPEED Center is hosting a conference on September 24-25 that will include presentations on Centennial Gate, the Ike Dike and the response to Hurricane Sandy in 2012. Houston Mayor Annise Parker and Port of Houston Chairman Janiece Longoria will give keynote remarks. For a complete list of speakers and registration information, click on   

And if you’re wondering, the Centennial Gate project gets its name from the Houston Ship Channel’s 100 year anniversary to be celebrated in 2014.  And “SSPEED” is an acronym for the Severe Storm Prediction, Education and Evacuation from Disasters (Center), which to date has received grants totaling $4.4 million from the Houston Endowment.