Gulf of Mexico
File photo shows Chuck Hale surveying the damage to a geotube, a sand-filled tube, that was exposed at Rollover Pass near Gilchrist on the Bolivar Peninsula on July 16, 2003. Residents said the protective tubes were covered with three feet of sand until Hurricane Claudette battered the Texas coast.Photo: Joshua Trujillo, Staff / Houston Chronicle

Army Corps' proposal for sand dunes to protect Texas coast brings questions about cost, feasibility

Nearly a decade before the “Ike Dike” became accepted jargon for coastal residents of southeast Texas, there were geotubes.

Installed on the beaches of Galveston and Bolivar Peninsula in 2001, geotubes — nicknamed “sand socks” — were sediment-filled oval sleeves made of a special fabric, anchored to an apron placed in a trench along the dune line. Their intent was to provide an artificial dune structure to guard coastal residents from floodwaters. The installation cost $5.4 million, a relative pittance for a flood mitigation measure.

The geotubes were damaged by various storms, and Hurricane Ike delivered the death blow in 2008. The Category 2 hurricane brought 100 mph winds and a 17-foot storm surge from the Gulf of Mexico, leveling the dune lines on Bolivar and Galveston and leaving the exposed geotubes prone on the sand like beached whales.

Ike showed, said Rice University professor emeritus John Anderson, that “one storm could defeat all our progress.”

Having learned this lesson the hard way, the Army Corps of Engineers has proposed 14-foot-high natural sand dunes in the latest version of its up-to-$32 billion plan for protecting the Houston-Galveston region from storm surge. The plan calls for dunes and flood gates running from High Island to San Luis Pass, as well as ecosystem restoration farther south.

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