By Jim Schutze
By Rachel Watts
By Lauren Drewes Daniels
By Anna Merlan
By Lee Escobedo
By Eric Nicholson
The pitfalls are especially tricky, however, when you get anywhere close to a levee, especially in flood conditions. If you have done anything to create an open channel between the underground river and the one above the surface, then the underground water, pressurized by the flood, will start ripping around, carving out caverns in the clay above it and even shooting up out of the ground where it can find a weak spot in the clay cap.
That's called a sand boil. It can take down a levee in hours. It's serious business, and it's what they are worried about.
At a city council committee briefing last week, council member Angela Hunt asked the city manager's staff, "Is there a reason we did not undertake a geotechnical analysis before now?
"I guess what I'm just curious about," she said, "is that we discovered recently that there is sand in some parts of the levees that concerns us, and I'm kind of wondering why..."
Assistant City Manager Ramon Miguez cut her off right there: "I beg to differ with that, Miss Hunt," he said. "We have known there was sand. There is sand that was discovered there 50-60 years ago.
"There is now a greater level of concern with regards to that sand than there existed 50-60 years ago," he said. "The sand has always been there."
"So we've known about the sand," Hunt said. "It's just that we're more concerned about it?"
"Yes," he said. "That would be a more accurate depiction of what's happened here."
Well, maybe. The Corps says they didn't have the information. I asked the Texas Department of Transportation. The bridge is their project.
TxDOT spokesman Tony Hartzel told me, "While this is a TxDOT contract, the city of Dallas designed the bridge and therefore obtained the required permits from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. The Corps approved the permits for the project after the city met all requirements at the time."
The city told me they did have geotechnical data for the area under the bridge, but it wasn't data that had to do with levees.
Look, it's about drilling holes in the ground and seeing what kind of dirt comes out. In this case, obviously a whole bunch of sand would have come out because there's a whole bunch of sand down there. The French utopians could have told you that.
It does not add up.
I don't believe that Corps officials or city or state or federal highway officials are lying to us, exactly, about what has gone wrong with the Trinity River Project. But they are trying really hard not to tell us the full story.
Private parties have poured tens of millions of dollars into the Calatrava signature bridge project. One of those persons sat next to me in the very front row of folding chairs at the mayor's recent press conference on the Trinity River project. Before I recognized her, I thought, "Wow, I've never seen bling like that on a reporter before, even Laura Miller."
Then I recognized her and noticed the very intense attention she was paying when the mayor talked about the bridge. Sure. She probably wants to know if she threw her money away.
The mayor and other officials are insisting that work is "moving forward" on the first bridge. On May 5, when Sam Merten asked Craig, the Corps project manager, how that could be true, Craig said, "I guess it's the definition of moving forward" and then went on to say they're investigating to see if they can move forward.
I call that not moving forward.
Just think if they can't finish it. Think how the lady in the bling will feel. Her family's money will be down a rat hole.
There's a lot of tension over this thing and a whole lot of utterly loopy evasion going on, topped off by Mayor Tom Leppert's Through the Looking Glass press conference last week to tell everybody how splendidly things are moving along.
Not. Moving. Along. Dead in the water, or should I say sand?
Hey, I know the subject of water sands is not an intriguing dinner table topic for everybody the way it is for me. You know how I can tell? When my wife and I go out to dinner, people trip over themselves trying to sit next to her, not me. Well, and she knows about gardening, so it could be that too.
But I can tell you this much: If your instincts tell you that none of this Trinity stuff makes any sense lately and it must be screwed up as a junkyard...
Trust your instincts.