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Texas needs hurricane plan

Imagine a Category 4 storm that makes landfall 30 miles west of the spot where Hurricane Ike came ashore. According to models by Rice University’s SSPEED Center (Severe Storm Prediction, Education and Evacuation from Disasters), a storm like that would generate a 25-foot surge of water into the Houston Ship Channel.

Imagine our coast’s barrier islands completely submerged, their expensive beach houses wiped away, the residents who didn’t evacuate, drowned. Imagine that wall of water crossing the Ship Channel’s Superfund sites, carrying toxic goo as far as water will spread on flat land. Imagine the large-scale debris borne by those waves slamming into thousands of chemical storage tanks, toppling some of them off their foundations.

Imagine the heart of the U.S. petrochemical industry brought to a standstill for months. Imagine our whole region — including Texas’ largest city — reeling from a blow we might never recover from.

Sooner or later, scientists say, a storm like that will come. So why aren’t we doing anything to save ourselves?

Academics have proposed several major efforts that would drastically reduce damage from a major storm — among them, the Ike Dike, the Centennial Gate, levees and steering industry and housing away from flood-prone areas. But there’s been no serious attempt to pick and choose among the proposals and make a unified plan, much less to make any of those dreams a reality.

In the wake of Ike, Gov. Rick Perry formed the six-county Gulf Coast Community Protection and Recovery District. Underfunded and unloved, it’s done little.

Governor, it’s time to try again.

What would a better try look like? Consider the storm-resistance plan that New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg recently released: 250 recommendations for things like levees, floodwalls, surge barriers and bulkheads, to protect his city from another Hurricane Sandy. It’s a 430-page plan.

New York already knows where it’s going. Texas — where major hurricanes are far more likely — still doesn’t.

Will protecting the Texas coast be expensive? The price tag would vary wildly depending on what options we choose, but the bottom line is yes: There’s no cheap way to protect the Ship Channel. But it’s money that needs to be invested. Prevention costs far less than remediation.

Will a Texas storm plan require asking for federal help — a request that goes against politicians’ grain these days? Most likely: It’s hard to imagine either coastal counties or private industry footing the entire bill for even a floodgate across the Ship Channel.

And the feds ought to help: A major hurricane strike on the Ship Channel would be not just Texas’ problem, but the nation’s. It would shake both national security and the U.S. economy. The nation runs on our chemicals, our oil.

Texas needs a plan.

Houston Chronicle