Double Oops

Carrollton takes one step backward as it tries to make amends with Mother Nature

And so, the blackland prairie grew while the controversy faded.

Move forward, now, to a day in October when Roz Stone was driving along Keller Springs Road, looking forward, as always, to the sight of her son's environmental handiwork. Instead of the waist-high grasses and nodding sunflowers, she saw mounds of dirt excavated from where a new sewer system was being installed. Trucks and bulldozers had traveled across the area where the prairie once stood, pounding it into a hardened roadway. Just as Jack Laivins had done on that summer morning years earlier, Roz Stone quickly searched for a phone.

Aware that the city was planning a major construction project in the park--rebuilding of the dam and spillway that supported the lake, installing a new sewer system and, eventually, erecting a combination library and senior citizens center--Stone and fellow wildlife task force members had been assured that the prairie would not be disturbed. Though no fence had ever been erected, the architect, they were assured, would outline the area on the blueprints provided to the construction company.

Jeff Stone planted prairie grasses as part of his Eagle Scout project. His work was destroyed by a construction project.
Mark Graham
Jeff Stone planted prairie grasses as part of his Eagle Scout project. His work was destroyed by a construction project.

Acknowledging that the prairie was not included on the original blueprints, Scott Whitaker, director of the Parks and Recreation Department, says that stakes were placed at the corners of the prairie to indicate its boundaries before the work began.

Freeman Adams, superintendent for the Hunt Construction Group that is doing the park work, remembers getting a call from someone representing the city, belatedly advising him that the prairie was off-limits. "At first I didn't know what they were talking about," he says, "since there was nothing on the plans we'd been given that indicated the blackland prairie was there. I'm sure not going to say we didn't run over it, but I had no idea what it was."

Adams urged the city to immediately come to the park and mark off the area he and his workers were to avoid. By the time a makeshift fence was erected around the area, however, it was little more than barren, hard-packed dirt.

Jeff Stone remembers going out to the site after learning what his mother had seen. "It was a strange feeling," he says. "There was all this machinery and piles of dirt where we'd planted everything. Everything was just gone, killed."

He hasn't been back to the park since.

And the city of Carrollton was back in the doghouse of some of its residents.

In recent weeks, Stone and fellow Wildlife Environmental Advisory Committee members have been asking for explanations. Assistant City Manager Guy says he's tried to assure them that there was no malicious intent on the city's part and that whatever damage has occurred will be repaired. "At the very worst," he says, "all this is the result of an unfortunate lack of communication. I'm comfortable that in a number of meetings which took place before the beginning of work out at the park that we [city officials] made it clear [to the construction company] that the prairie area was not to be disturbed. In retrospect, however, some of us should have gone out to the site to make sure the area was not only staked off but fenced."

Guy says he first became aware of the problem one Saturday as he drove past the construction site and saw a parked backhoe and mounds of dirt piled on the blackland prairie. "I immediately got on the phone to the parks department," he says, "and told them to get out there and get the area cleaned up and fenced off."

And now, he says, there is a plan for reseeding the prairie as soon as work on the dam is completed in March. "Our parks department," he says, "will re-establish it in the spring. In fact, we're already talking about bringing in specialists to assist in the process." Additionally, some kind of improved watering system will go on the drawing board since the past summer droughts have caused considerable damage to the plants in the original area. The project, Guy says, will be funded by the city.

Still, there is concern by those who remain upset over recent events.

"We had meetings on the construction plans," remembers Bob Lanier, a Jesuit High teacher and chairman of the advisory committee, "and the existence and location of the prairie was made clear. I'm surprised that the diagrams provided to the construction company showed nothing. All this had been very disappointing because the city has been very sensitive to environmental matters since the rookery incident."

No doubt, he and fellow advisory committee members would be even more surprised to see that blueprints viewed by the Dallas Observer indicate that once the construction project is completed, a parking lot drawn adjacent to the planned library-senior center apparently covers much of the area where the "permanent" blackland prairie was originally planted.

"That," Guy assures, "will not be the case. There will be nothing in that area but the rebuilt blackland prairie." Acknowledging that preliminary blueprints do indicate the encroachment of a driveway on the corner of the prairie area, he says, "This encroachment will be eliminated when the final architectural plans are completed."

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