By Jim Schutze
By Rachel Watts
By Lauren Drewes Daniels
By Anna Merlan
By Lee Escobedo
By Eric Nicholson
The powers that be made sure leadership of the Dallas City Council's Trinity River project committee would go to Vonciel Hill, their biggest suck-up. Therefore, most of the good information about the project dies right there. Everything would die if it were not for Sandy Greyson and Scott Griggs.
Griggs, a council member from Oak Cliff who is not on the committee, has been attending meetings uninvited to back up council member Greyson, the only other person in the room who knows where the bones are buried. They dug up some pretty funky bones at last week's meeting.
The so-called lakes the city was supposed to be building along the Trinity River have shrunk from almost 300 acres to three ponds of 20 acres each, maybe, except for one thing: the $19 million that taxpayers approved for the lakes project 16 years ago is sorta gone.
Greyson and Griggs forced Assistant City Manager Jill Jordan to admit that the cupboard is bare. And even though Jordan promised the laughable 20-acre cow-tank ponds are only the beginning, she also named all kinds of factors that make it sound as if they will be the end product.
But wait, before I get into all that, here's Vonciel Hill, chairperson of the damn committee. What does she say? In 1998 the taxpayers of the city were shown renderings of vast sheets of water downtown covered with sailboats, and that's what we voted for. So now we get a 20-acre pond stuck in the middle of nowhere. What is this, a giant middle finger in our faces?
Here's my point about Hill. I'm sitting out there in the peanut gallery wondering how she's going to handle this stuff. Hill's only significant action as chairperson so far today has been to halt the proceedings in order to acknowledge that a rich lady of her acquaintance has entered the room.
But Griggs and Greyson have just uncovered a massive fraud on the voters, and they have done it under the very nose of Hill, whose mission in life is to keep this kind of info from ever coming out. What does she even say?
We're at a particularly dismal point in the meeting. Jordan is trying to put a brave face on things. She says, "It could be that we could create basically a concrete-lined channel that would look like a lake."
Griggs and Greyson exchange small but meaningful glances. Griggs is about to dig into that one, but Hill interrupts. She says to Griggs, "As a non-committee member, you are exhausting a lot of time. Are you close to being finished?"
Griggs agrees to wrap it up. The very painful crucial points already have been made. Here's what Greyson and Griggs have dug out:
The $19 million that we approved for the design and construction of the lakes has been spent already on design. What the designers found out was that they can't design them.
Yeah. I'm not kidding. First, Jordan told the committee, the designers found out the lakes can't be dug down deeper than 10 feet, because a hole that deep would penetrate the sand layers beneath the clay cap, and all the water would leak out. Then they found out the lakes can't be connected to the river. In fact they can't come closer than 200 feet to the river, or the Corps of Engineers will make the city build full-scale dams between the lakes and the river. Nobody thought of any of this ahead of time.
How do we get water in the lakes if not from the river? Jordan said the only way is with water wells, and she said those will cost $1 million apiece. She didn't say why they will cost that much. They just will.
Sorry. Not done being depressing yet. The lakes can't be connected to each other, because they can't flow under the old bridges that cross the river. They can't flow under the old bridges because the old bridges stand on crappy piers that might fall down if any serious digging is done next to them. Nobody ever thought of that, either.
Well, can't we just fix the piers? Jordan said, "It costs about a million per pier to fix the piers, so that will not happen. So one way around incurring that expense is don't excavate around the piers, just stay away from them."
Just stay away from them? But there are old bridges up and down the river. Do you see where we're headed here? Jordan kept saying the three 20-acre ponds planned now will be just the beginning. But the beginning of what? If you have to stay 200 feet away from the river, and the corps requires everything to be quite a distance from the levees bordering the floodway, and you can't get near any old bridges, then disconnected spit-bath ponds scattered out on in the brush sound pretty much like the beginning and the end, do they not?
Then there's the money. Yeah, let's go back to that one. What do you mean, they spent all the money on the design, and they found out they couldn't do the design? That makes no sense whatsoever, right? They have to at least come up with a story that doesn't make us feel like total fools. Or do they?
I am starting to believe that City Hall folks think they are paid to see how many public dollars they can squander.