An Ike Fix? Lawmakers Say It Won’t Be Cheap

After three months and six public hearings, members of the House Select Committee on Hurricane Ike say they have some ideas that could help the next time a big storm hits southeast Texas. But the cost to implement the recommendations won’t be cheap.

“Not to take this recommendation seriously and not to act on it collectively will cost us even more.”

Committee Chairman Sylvester Turner of Houston and 14 of his lawmaker colleagues lay-out their recommendations in a 47-page report. It’s full of practical suggestions, things like making the power grid tougher and requiring back-up power sources for grocery stores and gas stations.

“When you take the recommendation to harden the electric grid, supplement it by the back-up power, we believe people will be in the best position to withstand the power shortages, the inconveniences because the will inevitably occur.”

The committee also recommends big improvements in the state’s efforts to provide emergency and temporary housing. Turner says there are still storm victims who don’t have permanent places to stay.

“At the very least, we must provide shelter for our citizens. One of the committee’s proposals is to create a new division of emergency housing within the Texas Department of Housing and Community Affairs. The committee is also proposing a contingency contract for emergency housing that would be put in place within 72 hours of a severe weather event.”

It will take more than 800-million dollars to repair the UTMB complex on Galveston Island. About a quarter of that  cost, just over $200 million, will be picked up by the state. State Representative Craig Eiland of Galveston says UTMB should look like the Texas Medical Center when it’s repaired.

“After Tropical Storm Allison, we went in a hardened it. We raised everything up to the second floor, so that now if you go to the Medical Center, the only thing you have on the first floor is Starbucks and couches, not critical infrastructure and treatment areas. That is what the future of UTMB will be and will look like.”

The price tag for the recommendations won’t be cheap. Turner doesn’t have an exact cost, but the total could reach half a billion dollars.

“If we don’t improve and harden the system, if we don’t do that, and if we don’t take these complementary efforts to put us in a better shape, these costs will simply continue to re-occur. These are ways of making the system better and I think will save us in the long stretch.”

Other recommendations include tougher building codes along the coast and adding to a disaster contingency fund. For the entire report, view the House Select Committee on Hurricane Ike website.