Houston Matters

Proposed Ike Dike gate design could cause problems for ships in port, Houston-area study shows

The study looked at 42 different scenarios and found that the turn for proposed gates was too close, and too narrow, and needed to move further out into the Bay. 


Fifteen vertical lift gates make up part of the gate system stretching across the water between Galveston Island and Bolivar Peninsula.


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A Houston organization is concerned about the current designs of the proposed Ike Dike and its affect on cargo ships.

The Greater Houston Port Bureau commissioned the study, and its findings were presented to the Gulf Coast Protection Board last week. The study said the gates the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers plans to develop as part of its Texas Coastal Protection and Restoration project in Galveston Bay may block more than just storm surges. The Bureau’s president Captain Bill Diehl spoke to Houston Matters with Craig Cohen on Monday.

The Ike Dike is a $34 billion project that was approved by Congress, but has yet to be funded. The project is a proposed coastal barrier that would protect Galveston Bay and provide a barrier against Gulf surges into the bay. Diehl said under current designs, some ships might not be able to get through the Houston Ship Channel.

“The Army Corps is in the conceptual stage of their design,” he said. “[We are] very supportive of … everything they’re doing. We want to be part of the process, because we want them to be successful with whatever they design for the port so that they don’t block our growth going forward.”

In 2017 the Army Corps came up with a preliminary design of a 1,200 foot gate from Galveston to Bolivar Peninsula. Pilots did preliminary simulations and determined that the gate was too narrow and needed to go further out in the Gulf.

“It was close to where if you came out of Galveston Bay you had to make a sharp turn to get out of that gate,” Diehl said.

Last year, Diehl said, the Corp came out with a different design that had two 650-foot gates.

“We said, we don’t know if this is a better design,” he said. “…We found that they were too narrow, they were in the wrong position, and we just think that we need to engage more in the design of it.”

These designs would be difficult for very large ships, he said.

“Basically when you’re sailing a ship in you have wind, you have current,” he said. “And it moves the ship … so it’s not coming in straight. And when you come down the Houston Ship Channel you have to turn right when you get down to what we call the Texas Y where it goes up to Texas City and where Galveston’s harbor comes out. At that point, you have to line up on gates and what we’ve found was that’s a very big challenge, and we have to have 100 percent success every time.”

Diehl said the Bureau funded the study. They looked at 42 different scenarios and found that the turn was too close, and too narrow, and needed to move further out into the Bay.

“You’ve got these big concrete structures, is that what we want to go through because the way they are designed affected the ships,” he said.

Diehl said another concern is who controls the gates.

“When the storm is headed towards us, we need to get these ships out of here,” Diehl said. “What is going to be the procedure when you put this gate here?”

Diehl said the port sees more ships than New York, New Jersey, Long Beach combined.

“Our port is the largest manufacturing center in the world,” he said. “We have 270 plants on the east end of Houston that are basically making different chemicals for manufacturing, and that really is how big this industry is.”

He said the port generates $800 billion of business a year, which 20% of the GDP of Texas.

“The port is critical for Houston, so we need to protect that port that is not only the channel, but the industry that we have in this area.”

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