The cost to prevent a catastrophic hurricane storm surge in the Houston Ship Channel runs between $2.8 billion and $7.6 billion, according to the authors of a report by the James A. Baker III Institute for Public Policy of Rice University.

A hurricane with winds 15% stronger than Hurricane Ike in 2008 and making landfall on the southwestern tip of Galveston Island could result in one of the worst environmental disasters in U.S. history, according to Rice's Severe Storm Prediction, Education and Evacuation from Disaster (SSPEED) Center.

Crude oil and hazardous substances stored on the channel could be released into one of the country’s most productive fish and shellfish nurseries, the authors say. Many of the potentially flooded chemical plants and refineries would require repairs to compressors, pumps, flanges and other exposed equipment, and damage could occur to pipes and process units.

The report, "Emerging Legal Issues in Hurricane Damage Risk Abatement," puts forth three potential engineering solutions that involve placing large, "navigation-friendly" gates across the Houston Ship Channel. The roughly $7.6-billion “Lower Bay Solution” involves installing a structure across the channel and constructing about two miles of gate structures to block off the remaining portion of Bolivar Roads that is not part of the navigational ship channel. The Lower Bay Solution proposes building a continuous barrier (such as a levee system, sand dune structures or elevated roads) on both Bolivar Peninsula and West Galveston Island. The proposal also includes a backside levee around move of Galveston connected to an elevated Galveston Seawall and, if needed, a gate across San Luis Pass and levees inland connecting to higher elevations north of the Gulf Intracoastal Waterway.

Lower Bay and Mid-Bay Solutions. Image credit: Map data ©2015 Google.Lower Bay and Mid-Bay Solutions. Image credit: Map data ©2015 Google.The roughly $2.8-billion “Mid-Bay Solution” is the same as the Lower Bay Solution, but instead of constructing the gate structures across Bolivar Roads, it contemplates building a gate across the Houston Ship Channel near Eagle Point, with connections to the Texas City levee on the west and to a dredge containment system along the east side of the ship channel. All levees within the bay are proposed to be constructed to 25 feet of elevation. The Texas City levee also would need to be raised to this height.

The Mid-Bay Solution offers somewhat less protection for Galveston Bay than the Lower Bay Solution. However, it provides the same level of protection to the industrial and residential areas of eastern Harris and Galveston counties.

Upper Bay Solution. Image credit: Map data ©2015 Google.Upper Bay Solution. Image credit: Map data ©2015 Google.The approximately $2.8-billion “Upper Bay Solution” includes a navigational gate structure located near the Fred Hartman Bridge and connected to a levee extending to the western mainland of Chambers County and into eastern Harris County south of the Barbours Cut Container Terminal at Morgan’s Point.

The report’s authors also propose several nonstructural methods using natural processes to build coastal defenses. Although the costs associated with structural solutions are considerable, the authors say that the Houston-Galveston region alone experienced more than $25 billion in economic loss from Hurricane Ike in 2008. That loss came despite the fact that the storm’s greatest impact missed the region and instead hit east of Galveston Bay.

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