Drowning in Lies About the Levees

Corps of Engineers documents contradict city's claims that everything's hunky-dory with plans to fix Trinity levees.

Why was I citing Corps of Engineers engineering standards to the Corps of Engineers? I did it because I had been urged to do so by the anonymous source of the documents.

Those documents clearly came from inside the corps technical staff. The picture painted by them is of Dallas city officials misleading the public about the nature of the problems with the levees, while front-office management in the corps, eager to avoid alienating Dallas City Hall, leans on the technical staff to keep its mouth shut.

But let's go back to what the corps has conceded to me in response to my questions. The levees failed to meet legal requirements and existing standards long before 2005. The only thing that's changed is we've learned the truth, which brings us to another even more troubling aspect of what the anonymous documents told me.

At the city's October 3 council committee briefing, city and corps staff showed council members a PowerPoint presentation stating that "City and corps have collaborated to identify safe and cost effective construction methods to complete the 100-year fixes" with "anticipated savings of $30M-$50M."

The source of my documents told me in a letter that this is not true. The source said that the technical staff of the corps has refused to endorse the new cheaper repair scheme the city has devised for bringing the levees back up to the minimum 100-year level of protection. The proof of this, the source said, is twofold.

First of all, the technical staff insisted they be allowed to enter into internal corps documents a disclaimer to the effect that the staff does not and will not endorse what the city is doing as contributing in any way to restoring the 100-year level of protection. The only assurance the corps' staff is willing to give is that the planned repairs will not harm the existing levee system or make it any worse than it already is.

Secondly, the source told me that if I asked the right way, I would find that the corps, at the insistence of its own engineers, has gone back into its own official "environmental assessment" report on the planned levee repairs and stripped out any language that might appear to endorse the repairs as restoring 100-year protection.

So I did ask. First, I presented the corps with the internal statement of disclaimer contained in the leaked document. Here it is for you to read:

"The currently proposed modification is accepted for the limited purpose of being not injurious to the function and operation of the existing federal project. USACE provides no opinion as to the efficacy of the modification for providing flood risk management benefits."

The corps response, in part, was: " ... the comment cited accurately reflects the USACE review comment for the City's proposed plan ... "

They said more than that. I will get to that, but here's what they did not say: That's some crazy stuff. We don't know where it came from, but it's total garbage.

They know where it came from. It's not garbage.

Secondly, I asked them if it was true they were going back through the environmental assessment to strip out language endorsing the city's repair scheme. They said " ... the EA was modified ... "

The corps told me it allowed the disclaimer to be entered into the record and also modified the EA only because it had never been the corps' intent to endorse or not endorse the city's proposed repairs as a means of restoring 100-year protection.

I asked: If it was never the corps' intent to endorse or approve of the repairs, why did the corps have to enter the disclaimer into its own records and why did it have to remove language from the EA approving of the repairs? I asked that question at the end of the day last Friday and had not heard back yet early this week in time for deadline for this story.

I also asked Suhm why the city keeps asserting that the corps has changed its engineering standards for levees. She emailed me back: "The City has always striven to meet applicable design standards."

That's it.

In their responses to me, the corps basically concedes that two important stories, both repeated as fact by public officials, are not true.

So here is my question for you: Given this level of misinformation on these important life-and-death issues, why, exactly, would we trust anything else they tell us?

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20 comments
Catbird
Catbird

Well, all I have to say is that if downtown is flooded out of existence that it will only harm the wealthiest 1% and the corrupt bnkers who own the real estate so who cares? Let it rain.

We are the 99%!

Marc
Marc

Jim, there is one misconception in this story that drastically needs to be corrected - an 800-year flood does NOT mean a flood of that magnitude once every 800 years. That is a totally erroneous characterization. The term applies to the chances of a flood of that magnitude EVERY year.

In other words, an "800-year flood" is specifically a 1-in-800 chance of a flood of that magnitude EVERY year! Dallas has seen "500- year floods" several times within a ten year period, and recently saw those floods twice in three years.

People who do not understand the specifics of these terms should not use them carelessly, as LIEppert, Neumann, Natinsky and Suhm do (and did) so often. The problem is that none of those people has the brain power or comprehension to grasp the scientific meaning of that terminology, and if they DO possess the intellectual capacity to grasp it, then they are just flat out lying through their teeth when they tell you those terms refer to the number of years between a flood of such magnitude.

I brought this matter to the attention of LIEppert and Natinsky at a public forum where they were selling the Trinity Toll Road Project at the Greek Orthodox Church at Alpha Road and Hillcrest Road a couple of months before the vote to approve that project occurred. Their lies are part of what sold people on the project. Had they been truthful, then the vote probably would have gone the other way. I even challenged them to confirm what I told them with the USACE disctrict office in Fort Worth. Either they did not do that, or else they did, and then continued lying to sell their pet project.

JimS
JimS

Well, I found your Huff Post piece of two years ago, http://www.huffingtonpost.com/...and I think i get it, if I'm reading the right thing. It looks like the same thing I get from the Corps all the time here. They just burrow down into bureaucratic arcana of the past deep enough to where they know reporters won't be able to follow them and then float all kinds of baseless assertions. Right now the Corps here has been stymied for a week trying to come up with answers to my final questions. I can tell they're going to come up some assertion that, even though it was their official action that precipitated the de-accreditation of the Dallas levees, they have noting to do with re-accrediting them. At any rate, I guess I see what they tried to pull in New orleans with the thing about the perimeter barrers. They point to a basically irrelevent battle over costs on other projects, which they lost, and then weave that into their own decsiion not to do the barriers and assert that that's why their canal flood walls failed. I talked to Harry Shearer for his documentary and he said, "Whose idea was it to put the army in charge of flood congtrol?" Good question, eh?

Replay
Replay

sounds like city officials could not carry a straight story if you gave them a bucket to put it in.....just sayin'

Levees.org
Levees.org

Thank you Jim Schutze. We over in New Orleans have been watching the goings on with the Trinity River Project since 2005 with interest. Since Katrina, we, the residents of New Orleans have been blamed for our suffering. The 'story' was that we "blocked the Corps of Engineers" from building proper flood protection. That 'story' persists, even though now, 6 years out, no credible expert has found a shred of evidence to back up this claim.

In addition to our suffering, we were blamed for bringing the Trinity River Corridor Project to a grinding halt, a project we understand would be a transformational public project in Dallas history. Thank you Mr. Schutze for working so hard to reach the truth, and for putting it out here for everyone to see.

Sandy Rosenthal, founder of Levees.org

Tom L (No, Not That L)
Tom L (No, Not That L)

Look, Jim, you're getting too worked up over this. All we have to do is ignore the levee problem and sooner or later it'll go away.

Likeicare
Likeicare

"why, exactly, would we trust anything else they tell us?"

I never have.

Hunter Deaver
Hunter Deaver

The response of the corps to the leaked document is telling. The apparent indifference of city officials to a potential life and death situation caused by failed levees is scary, yet not surprising. At least we have a kayaking run...

Scott Roberts
Scott Roberts

"The picture painted by [the corp technical staff] is of Dallas city officials misleading the public about the nature of the problems with the levees, while front-office management in the corps, eager to avoid alienating Dallas City Hall, leans on the technical staff to keep its mouth shut."

Sounds like there is some internal wrangling going on within the corp itself. It's not too far-fetched to believe that the "front-office management" at the corp really is trying to skirt the standards and work with the city, but the technical staff is being obstinate (and rightly so).

Jim Schutze
Jim Schutze

Excellent point,and then you have te fact that climate change, development and lack of land use policy are rapidly rendering all of these terms obsolete and largely meaningless, anyway.

mynameisURL
mynameisURL

It's not even that folks like Leppert & Suhm don't or couldn't understand the specifics of the terms, it's far worse than that: They just plain don't CARE. Their intellectual curiosity extends only as far as it needs to to insure their continued employment and sustaining their standing in the good graces of the Dallas glitterati. (WOOT! Paty at the OMNI!)

IBG-YBG politics, (I'll Be Gone, You'll Be Gone) Instant gratification, money in the campaign coffers to promote grand ego projects (Fancy bridges, we're looking at YOU) from those most able to provide that largesse, and "Nuts to you" to those least able to do so.

Also, none of *their* houses are in the flood plain, so, there's that, too.

Mayor Mike Rawlings: Leppert II, the Electric Boogaloo...

Levees.org
Levees.org

Yes, many decades later, the corps points to an irrelevant separate issue, and disingenuously asserts that's why their canal walls failed. We have collected even more solid data in the years since I wrote that post. Bottom line, the corps recommended gates at the mouths of the three outfall canals because it was the cheaper option, not the better option. There is no evidence the corps thought the use of gates was a better flood control option. Keep in mind, the gates proposed in the 70s did not have auxiliary pumps like those built post Katrina.

We remain open to the idea of consulting with you on a post dedicated to this extremely important issue. --Sandy R.

JimS
JimS

Blog software screwed jup. Above was intended as reply to Sandy Rosenthal below.

Jim Schutze
Jim Schutze

Mr. Rosenthal, maybe this isn't the right place for this discussion, but let me ask you something about all this. A month or so ago I had a conversation with John M. Barry, author of "Rising Tide," and I asked him about the question of New Orleans's culpability in Katrina. First of all, he said eight ways to Sunday that New Orleans had no culpability, in his view, and all the blame went straight to the Corps. But he conceded that the Corps was originally barred from building floodworks within the city -- limited by law to peripheral works -- until New Orleans, through its congressional delegation, got the law changed to draw the Corps' into the city. Barry didn't say this, but I am aware there is an argment that this put the Corps where it did not belong, geographically and politically, because it drew the Corps into urban storm water management, which is very fine bore and susceptible to all kinds of local politcial pressure. Again, this is not Barry's theory. He said to me several times, don't blame New Orleans, blame the Corps. But I am troubled by this chapter. Do you think it gives the city any responsibility, if not culpability, for theultrimate failure of those works?

Montemalone
Montemalone

Problem is, it'll probably take all of us with it.

Darrd2010
Darrd2010

None of this exposure would have happened without Marc's involvement. So kudos to him for shining a light on this disaster in the making. After waiting months to hear from City Hall and the state attorney general about correspondence between the city and the USACE, I now have letters saying, that it's not of my business. How do you like that?

Marc
Marc

Dear URL,

You are so correct! The motivation for people like LIEppert, Suhm, Neumann and Natinsky is how much money can be made for themselves and their personal friends/campaign supporters. They certainly are not about to allow truth and fact to get in their way. They know the truth because it has been told to them, in this case by me personally, yet they still persist in repeating their lies to dumb down those whose votes they need to succeed.

Levees.org
Levees.org

We are glad you asked because the nation needs to know. And we agree that the full answer to your question may not fit easily here into a comment. In short, after six years of study, we have not found evidence of local culpability for the failure of the outfall canal floodwalls designed and built by corps. But we are happy to consult with you should you decide to devote part of a post to this important question. --Sandy R.

 
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