Sixteen months after Hurricane Ike wreaked havoc on the barrier island city of Galveston, Texas, and on the adjacent Bolivar Peninsula, the Federal Emergency Management Agency's response is beginning to get into high gear. In Galveston, county officials held public meetings on January 7 for contractors interested in work rebuilding or repairing homes damaged in the storm, the Galveston County Daily News reported ("County seeks contractors for hurricane repairs," by T. J. Aulds). With $85 million in federal dollars to spend and some 600 houses needing work, the county has plenty to manage. One good piece of news for local contractors: the county has scaled back the requirements for contractor performance bonding from a minimum of $500,000 to $100,000, to allow smaller and less well-financed companies to take on a share of the work.

For some coastal homeowners, there won't be any rebuilding: their properties will be subject to a 103-million-dollar FEMA buyout program. Properties nearest to the beach that bore the brunt of Ike's killer wave will be purchased by the government and made part of a new nature and wildlife preserve. The Houston Chronicle has that story ("Texas getting nearly $103 million for Ike buyouts," by the Associated Press); the Beaumont Enterprise also covers it ("Bolivar buyout begins; FEMA awards millions," by Sarah Moore). "There are 571 properties on the county’s priority buyout list. Most are along the beach front on the Gulf of Mexico side of the Bolivar Peninsula, as well as properties just east and west of Rollover Pass in Gilchrist. That number also includes 11 beach-front homes in the village of Jamaica Beach," reports the Galveston County News ("Feds approve buyout funds," by T. J. Aulds).

Sixteen months after Ike, little rebuilding has been attempted on those properties nearest the ocean. That's not surprising, considering the severity and extent of the destruction: not just homes, but the shore itself was heavily damaged by the storm surge and currents. For a look back, here's a photo overlay posted on the website of the United States Geologic Survey.

Image
Before and after picturesof destruction on the Bolivar Peninsula are part of a collection on www.geology.com. A much more extensive collection of Ike aftermath shots, assembled in the days following the storm, is still online at jakeabby.com. The images of Ike's profound erosion of the slender barrier island that was Gilchrist, Texas, argue strongly in favor of the government's decision to remove those lands from habitation — and to stop supporting insurance coverage for building at those locations.

Elsewhere, however, the government continues to pour dollars into the rebuilding effort. On top of home reconstruction, FEMA has committed $200 million to the repair of damaged infrastructure, such as roads, bridges, and government facilities. "The agency this week released a list of more than 1,000 projects it intends to subsidize in Galveston and Galveston County. The agency will spend $102.1 million repairing, improving, and replacing damaged infrastructure in Galveston and $90.8 million improving damaged infrastructure in other parts of the county," reports the Daily News ("FEMA to pay $200 million for infrastructure," by Rhiannon Meyers).

Unfortunately, FEMA will not be picking up the tab for one late-appearing problem: Damage to underground sewer pipes caused by salt-water intrusion. And those crumbling sewer pipes are undermining roads in Galveston, giving rise to what may be an ongoing problem for the city in the months and years to come, according to the Daily News ("Streets sinking 16 months after Ike," by Rhiannon Meyers). "When Hurricane Ike struck Galveston on Sept. 13, 2008, the storm surge swamped three-quarters of the island and filled the city’s storm sewers and sewage pipes. The salty water mixed with raw sewage, creating a mild sulfuric acid that has been eating away at the city’s underground infrastructure," the paper reports. FEMA is paying to replace some streets that were completely washed out in the storm, but reportedly has no plans to pay for any latent damage that is appearing now or has yet to show itself.