Pants on Fire

Looking forward to even more whoppers next year

None. We don't get white-water rafting until we come up with the additional $700 million.

Think I'm kidding? I checked with Trinity project director Rebecca Dugger to make sure this document is still operative, and she assured me it is. Believe me: The white-water rafting is the least of it.

Maybe you weren't sure a minute ago, by the way, what a "reverse-flow lake" is. Please let me explain. Right now all of the water in the Trinity River is "effluent" or doo-doo water from upriver sewage treatment plants, some of which don't meet minimal EPA standards. It's not safe to swim in. I have spoken to experts who have said it would be unsafe to go sailing on top of this water unless you were wearing a HAZMAT suit.

In these computer-generated images from the city's Trinity Web page, people enjoy recreational amenities that in fact are not included in the Trinity River Plan.
In these computer-generated images from the city's Trinity Web page, people enjoy recreational amenities that in fact are not included in the Trinity River Plan.

All of the boating ideas depend on pumping properly treated doo-doo water back upriver from the Dallas Sewage Treatment Plant and then allowing it to "reverse" or flow back down the river. So how much money is in the basic plan for doing that?

Not enough. What we are getting instead is a stagnant rainwater lake with groundwater pumps that somebody hopes will keep the lake a little bit wet during the dry season.

Boating? Well, sure, if you want to park downtown and carry your boat across the levees and down through the ticks and chiggers to the stagnant water. The levee-top roads and the park access roads shown in all the fancy graphics for this project are not in the plan.

Neither, by the way, are the recreation terraces, the amphitheater or the concession and event facilities. They're not in the basic plan. They're not in the $110 million plan. They're in your dreams. The storm-water wetlands, the headwater wetlands, the boardwalks--not there.

Why aren't they there? You'll never get a straight answer out of Miller or anybody else at City Hall about this, so I'd go with this answer: In October 2003, the city manager proposed a new version of the project plan--the one you will still see on their Web page--in which $32 million that had been dedicated to lakes and parks disappeared. But the cost of the multilane freeway they want to jam in on top of the river--not in the plan we voted on in 1998--went up by $180 million.

Think that might be where the white-water kayaking money went?

Let me point out something else that's very important. Our current mayor, Laura Miller, started out as an ardent and effective critic of "big ticket" glitz and glamour public works projects that drained money away from neighborhoods, street repairs and schools. She made her name on these issues when she was here at the Observer. She ran for the city council on these issues. She ran and was elected mayor on these issues.

She is the star of the special Trinity River edition of D, as the No. 1 public proponent of the Trinity project, promising people that they will reap benefits she knows they will never see.

In an interview titled "The conversion of Laura Miller," she gives a strange account of why she switched. She says her husband, former state representative and wealthy asbestos lawyer Steve Wolens, told her, "You are stupid." She says Wolens told her to support the project. So she did.

Could that possibly be true? Or is this some kind of bizarre psych-out designed to win the soccer-mom vote? I'm not sure I want to know.

Here is what counts. This is the end of the second most crucial year in Dallas politics in the last quarter-century. The most crucial will be next year, when we will vote on fundamental changes to the legal structure of our community.

What I want to say to you is this: Especially right now in Dallas, powerful interests are determined to spin whatever kind of voodoo doo-doo they have to in order to get their way on real estate and public works deals worth fantastic amounts of money to them. You have a tough challenge ahead in knowing whom to trust.

This town is eerie. People come along; they seem tough and spunky; next time you see them they have that body-snatchers glaze over their eyes and they're telling you to go along with the plan. All you can do is shrug and figure somebody got to somebody.

Next year? Every little chance we get, let's try to keep our eyes on the ball. If the guy next to you gets that glaze? Ooch away from him, look for the ball. It's going to be an absolutely wonderful 12 months. For me, anyway.

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