By the way...

The News finally reports the danger of the Trinity River project. Did you notice?

The reason for the loss in the 1970s and '80s was obvious: Development had greatly diminished the amount of space left for water to sit and soak. Most of the space left, in fact, was crowded up against the river.

Under strong pressure from the Corps, Dallas joined Fort Worth and 12 other communities along the river's reach to sign an agreement vowing they would not allow any development to take place that would diminish valley storage. That was even supposed to mean that a developer who did fill in or pave land would have to dig out or set off an equivalent amount of land somewhere else to reduce runoff.

The reason why the Trinity plan diminishes valley storage and makes flooding worse, critics believe, is because the plan includes an eight-lane toll road inside the river's levees, covering much of the floodway with concrete. The toll road, they say, is the real reason for the whole project, designed to enhance real estate values in the Stemmons Industrial corridor.

Lawyer Jim Blackburn says granting Dallas one flood variance could lead to others.
Peter Calvin
Lawyer Jim Blackburn says granting Dallas one flood variance could lead to others.

The Corps of Engineers, a staunch champion of the river project, has consistently assured critics that the road itself will cause no loss of valley storage whatever. In a May 11 letter, Corps engineer Jerry A. McCrory said the proposed toll road "would be required to maintain the performance of the Dallas Floodway" and that Corps' requirements called for "no loss of valley storage."

Last year, in a study they carried out for the Texas Department of Transportation, Halff engineers said the loss of valley storage might be 2 percent but could easily be reduced to zero.

One of the issues critics have raised is that the agreement to protect valley storage signed by the 14 Trinity River communities in 1991 has worked well and has not been significantly violated before. Environmental lawyer Jim Blackburn, who represents a group called Citizens for Sensible Priorities, has said, "If variances are granted to one, it becomes a matter of right for all."

Last August, John Promise of the North Texas Council of Governments (NTCOG), which administers the anti-flooding agreement, told the Observer that no community had ever sought or been granted a variance. That would have compounded the issue for Dallas by making the Trinity River variance a major precedent.

Later, after the Observer had reported on the precedent issue, NTCOG announced it had found an earlier variance, which allowed Dallas to say its variance was not precedent-setting. But in response to questions, the NTCOG staff member who came up with the variance conceded he actually had found a road construction project in Irving that could have required a small variance, then wrote to Irving officials and asked them to apply for one.

The Dallas project will actually require two separate variances. One would cover the construction of new levees downriver from downtown. The second would cover the effect of building the toll road on top of the river.

Wells, of SOS, who has attended most of the briefings on the project hosted by the city and Halff and Associates, says the latest numbers released by Halff on the size of the variance stunned him because they are so far off from what Halff and the city have been saying for a year.

"The thing that really threw me was that it was so different from what I was told. They must have known what they were saying to people wasn't accurate," he says.

Fortunately for Halff and city officials, they were able to get the variance story out, through the official newspaper, without having to explain what any of it meant.

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