Last Chance

Kill the river plan, save the river

We are driving by an entire little Mexican rodeo, hidden out here in the cottonwoods in a corner of the levee. This scene is straight out of Lonesome Dove. I hope this isn't where Laura Miller wants to put the Ann Taylor shop.

Shouting over the wind buffeting through the open vent windows, Allen says: "A lot of people look out here at the river with an idea of what we can make it into. To me, it starts with the river itself being an elemental force of nature."

Unfortunately, the narrow set of interests who have hijacked the river plan in recent years have a very different view. They want to cram an eight-lane expressway right along the banks of the river, turning most of the expanse we are looking at today into a roaring, exhaust-spewing urban nightmare.

Charles Allen looks out on a bend of the Trinity River from the old Mockingbird bridge (hidden beneath the new Mockingbird bridge).
Mark Graham
Charles Allen looks out on a bend of the Trinity River from the old Mockingbird bridge (hidden beneath the new Mockingbird bridge).

Maybe you think we need the traffic relief downtown. We probably do. But their proposed road won't do it. In fact, the road they have in mind can't generate the traffic volumes needed to qualify for normal federal highway support. That's why it would have to be a toll road. It's a road from nowhere to nowhere.

Well, more precisely, it's a road that leads from a bunch of empty land in the southeast corner of the county, blocked up in recent years by some of the big real estate speculators, up into the area just above Fort Worth where the Perots have their private freight airport. This is a speculative road-building venture designed to spur a bunch of throwback, 1970s-style, raw-land, real estate action in the farthest reaches of the new suburbs--to create traffic, not relieve it.

In the process, we would decimate a vast natural area and squander an irreplaceable asset for the future. This bad idea comes generally from the same array of real estate players who want to gut the West End and downtown Dallas in order to boost the development of a suburban mall-style area around the new arena. These are basically anti-urban people--people who don't get and don't love either cities or natural areas. They think if they're good, when they die they'll go to a mall. (I think they're partially right: They're going to a mall.)

The U.S. Office of Management and Budget, in a recent report to the secretary of the Army, lambasted the Trinity River Plan as deceptive and ineffective even for the goals it sets for itself. The reaction of Mayor Ron Kirk and the river-plan boosters has been to dismiss the OMB report as meaningless and to use sleazy Washington insider politics to try to trick the river plan through Congress in spite of the OMB criticism.

They may succeed. As far as I can tell by talking to various environmental lobbyists in Washington, the battle in D.C. is turning entirely on Beltway issues--whether the appropriations committees can override the authorizing committees and on the relative clout or un-clout of U.S. Senator Kay Bailey Hutchison (R-Dallas) and U.S. Representative Eddie Bernice Johnson (D-Dallas), both of whom are lobbying hard for the plan. The best hope of the foes, as far as I can tell, is an attempt to show that Senator Hutchison has a conflict of interest because her husband, Ray Hutchison, is the bond lawyer on the river deal.

He may have a technical conflict. His legal fees with the city are tied to the sale of bonds, so he makes money if this plan stays alive. But even if it's a conflict, most people here are going to view it as merely technical. Nobody is going to believe the Hutchisons are pushing this plan as a way to help them earn legal fees. This is a much bigger play than that.

The real corruption here is the basic view of the land expressed in the existing Trinity River Plan--the land as dirt, the river as a sewer, the future as a cash cow, life as shopping.

I normally don't do free ads for people, but I do wish everybody would call Charles Allen and take a Trinity River tour with him, by van or canoe or on foot. His company, Trinity River Expeditions, can be reached at 214-941-1757.

At this moment, he is showing me a little wetland area midway between the levee and the river. "It's a seasonal wetland, a lot like a playa lake, with no channel to the river. It's about 2 feet deep during the wet season."

He shakes his head admiringly. "It's a bubbling little cauldron of life."

Our life. The lives of generations to come.

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