Dallas City Fathers And The Army Corps Of Engineers Don't Speak The Same Language When It Comes To the Levees.

So I'm at City Hall watching the city council last week, and out of the blue—I don't know where it comes from, just craziness—I have this thought. I know why Dallas Mayor Tom Leppert and City Councilman Dave Neumann don't get it.

Seriously. It was a lightning bolt. Neither one of them ever learned girlfriend-speak.

This is probably sexist, and I know it's terribly age-inappropriate. But it's an important fact. Some guys learn how to speak girlfriend. Some guys don't.

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers is trying in roundabout ways to make it obvious that it is no longer City Hall's girlfriend. Sadly, some people at City Hall—notably City Councilman Dave Neumann and our mayor—never learned girlfriend-speak.
Sam Merten
The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers is trying in roundabout ways to make it obvious that it is no longer City Hall's girlfriend. Sadly, some people at City Hall—notably City Councilman Dave Neumann and our mayor—never learned girlfriend-speak.

That's why this mess about the levees along the Trinity River is proving to be so personally difficult for Leppert and for Neumann, who is chairman of the city council's Trinity River Committee.

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, the federal government agency in charge of the levees, has been talking to them in girlfriend: "Oh, I'd love to, but I'm going to be out of town. Yeah, I did say my mom was going to be in town. She's going to be in town, and I'm going to be out of town."

They never say, "I am dumping you." But after the second or third lame excuse, you are supposed to be able to figure it out. It's called Life I.Q.

And just so I can go home at night after this column appears, I should hasten to add that boyfriends are no better at dumping girls honestly. If anything, their excuses tend to be lamer, as in, "I can't, because I have to wash my truck."

The point is, if you are the dump-ee, you need to do yourself and everybody else a favor by knowing that you are the dump-ee, and that the deed is done. Leppert and Neumann are like the guy standing in the lobby of the girls dorm with a box of chocolates under his arm shouting, "What are you doing with him? I'm the one you're going steady with!"

All of a sudden, sitting there in the council chamber, I felt embarrassed for them.

At the council meeting, Leppert and Neumann started riffing—again! for the third time in three days—about how furious they are with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. They say the corps keeps changing the rules on them, coming up with new requirements that delay repairs to the levee system. The levees are supposed to protect the city from flooding.

The levee problem is a huge deal. The city is up against a deadline next year. If the levees can't be fixed by then, an official notice will go out telling people that a major swath of the city, including some of the most valuable buildings downtown and near downtown, are subject to being wiped out in future floods.

Who knew?

Not the people who built the buildings. Not the people who put up the money to build the buildings. Not the people who own them now. They were told their investments were safe. For years the corps told everybody that the Trinity River levees were not only OK but excellent.

But then you have to remember: The corps is in the levee-building business. They sell levees. The corps is a half-civilian offshoot of the Army. It has to go out and drum up business.

The corps telling you that the levees they just sold you are in excellent shape is like a salesman telling you that the car he just sold you is excellent. The big wake-up would be if he said anything different.

But after Katrina, the rules changed. Congress directed the corps to go out, survey all of the nation's flood control levees and then come back and tell the truth about them.

So in April 2009, the corps came back to Dallas and said the levees along the Trinity River were not excellent any more. Actually, not good. In fact, no good. Specifically, worthless.

Without some kind of major repair or even replacement, according to the corps, the levees along the Trinity cannot be counted on to protect people from a catastrophic flood. Actually, even from a big flood. In fact, from any flood.


Imagine the salesman calling you up and saying, "Actually, the car I sold you is going to kill you."

People are upset. No wonder.

So now it's a question of what must be done to fix the levees before a deadline next year when new flood-danger maps will be issued by the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA). If the new FEMA maps show a third of the city as a mud-sucking river-bottom, watch out for fallout. Fellows like Leppert and Neumann could be in for some bad tar and feathers.

Why them specifically? Of everybody and anybody currently at City Hall, those two individuals are the poster children for everything wrong in this picture. They didn't make the levees fall apart, but they have been cheerleaders for putting up all kinds of baubles and bangles along the levees without first asking or caring if the levees themselves were safe. And now we know the levees are not safe. But Leppert and Neumann continue to whine about how the safety problem is getting in the way of the baubles and bangles.

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