One of my New Year's resolutions is to be a better person. Another is to do a better job cleaning up after the dogs in my backyard. Whichever comes first.
The dog thing I can do. The better person plan is in conflict, I must admit, with some of what I am hoping for in the coming year. A catastrophic flood, for example.
I don't want anyone to be seriously hurt.
New Year's resolutions
True, in order for my dream to be fulfilled I would have to see a lot of people floating on rooftops with pets. But I want the pets to be rescued. The people too. It goes without question.
Because I'm a liberal, I don't want the flood to burden one particular community over another. I would like for the flood to involve a broad swath of the city, with lots of rich white people up on rooftops doing jumping jacks for the helicopter news crews and their panic-stricken Shih Tzus biting at their calves. I know from long years in the news biz that nothing is more heartrending than an imperiled Shih Tzu.
I want everybody rescued at the last minute. I want nice weather for it. No hypothermia. A few scrapes and bruises, of course. Eventually I'd like to see a big juicy federal bail-out. But all of this raises the question, I know: What kind of person hopes for a flood?
I had hoped to cover some of that issue in my very first remarks—a person who should be a better person, but don't hold your breath. The rest of it has to do with this: The biggest event of last year for me was, of course, the Trinity River toll road election.
I had hoped the city would vote against building a big, limited-access highway through the planned park along the Trinity River downtown. Instead—and in spite of all my efforts here at the Dallas Observer—the city voted for it.
I don't want you to think my dream of a biblical catastrophe befalling the city in the year to come is more than maybe 25 percent inspired by vengeance. I could admit to possibly 35 percent, but I'm not going a point higher.
For the most part, I mean well. It's for the city's own good. I don't think there is any way for the city to see the truth about the Trinity River project except by means of a monumental, devastating, root-ripping, tower-toppling disaster.
Sorry. You go ahead and be against it. That won't bother me a bit. No skin off my nose. But me, I'm rooting for a scene of controlled devastation.
What we lost sight of in the debate over the toll road was the fundamental question of the city's future safety. During the campaign people talked about whether the new toll road will flood. My answer was always a question: Who cares?
The toll road is to be built along the river, inside the flood control levees that hold water out of downtown. The road, in other words, will be inside the floodway—the area designed to flood.
But if the North Texas Tollway Authority is dumb enough to build a toll road that will be exposed to flooding, then I hope the stupid thing floods on a monthly basis. Let them pay to clean it up. That's their business.
The real question was always whether the toll road would cause downtown to flood. If you think of the area between the levees as a bathtub, then putting all that massive concrete and steel inside the tub makes the water rise higher, closer to the lip where it may spill out.
Mayor Tom Leppert and the Dallas Citizens Council, heavily backed by the public works construction and real estate lobbies, argued that there are lots of ways to build around that problem. Raise the levees, dig the river channel down deeper and so on. And from a simple drawing-table point of view, they are mathematically correct. They just happen also to be totally wrong and cretinously irresponsible in terms of the real world.
Please be assured: The flood I am hoping for is not my flood. It's their flood. That's why I want it.
Thirteen years ago a group called the U.S. Interagency Task Force on Floodplain Management published a major international study that came to be known as the "Galloway Report," summing up everything known all around the world about how to prevent floods.
I think I probably have gone through the drill on the Galloway Report enough times by now. It's possible that Dallas Observer readers may now actually be the world's best-informed audience on Galloway Report issues. Either that, or the words "Galloway Report" in the columns of the Observer have now become a kind of Skinner-box electronic stimulus that causes readers to drop the paper from their hands as if it were on fire.
Let me just do a quick summary of one of the most significant findings, and I paraphrase heavily: "Do not...repeat, not build all kinds of crap right next to rivers that are prone to flood." A kind of sub-corollary to that principle might be summarized as, "Figure it out, Sherlock."
You know, the river does flood already. We've got those dirt walls next to it that are supposed to keep it from flooding downtown. We've got big pumps, like the ones that failed in New Orleans. And we've got some kind of channels outside the dirt walls called "sumps" or "sumpins." They do sumpin'.
But every time the water rises, as it did last June, everybody at City Hall sort of leans out toward the western windows with their binoculars trained on the river, watching it inch up bit by bit toward the tops of the levees.
During the campaign, I spoke with a gentleman whose firm built the levees. He's retired now and didn't especially want to get tossed into the briar patch. But he explained to me what will happen if the levees downtown ever are over-topped and then get washed away, like what happened in New Orleans.
He said there are two kinds of floods. One is a "rising flood." That's when the water just keeps inching up higher around the bottoms of the buildings. That's not what will happen here.
If the levees fail in downtown Dallas, we will get what he called a "ravaging flood." That's when a great big body of water suddenly explodes out over ground where it wasn't supposed to go. The result is not a leak. It's a fire hose. And if the body of water in question is a flooded Trinity River, it's King Kong's fire hose.
Given all of that, the answer the city should have come to in the Trinity toll road election was no. Or was it yes? Oh, I already forgot. Whatever you voted to say you did not want them to build a toll road next to the river, that's how the city should have voted.
The city should have said, "Increased risk of ravaging floods downtown? You're kidding me, right? Are you on crack? What do I look like, the president? C'mon, get outta here with that."
Ah, but we did not vote that way, did we? Not a majority of us, anyway. And so now we have to find out what kind of mistake we have made.
I am not yearning for a flood downtown. That would be wrong. What I want is more of a warning flood in some of the outlying areas such as the Park Cities, before the city actually gets a chance to build this stupid toll road.
We'll probably need another really wet May with a long period of soaking rains to fill up the water table and saturate the soil. I hope we won't see the sun all month.
Then around mid-June, I'm going to be hoping for some gigantic gulley-washers with tooth-rattling thunder and end times lightning. When the Dumpsters start sailing down the alleys like river rafts I'll be rubbing my hands in glee, but I'm not going to be really ecstatic until I see whole houses floating down Beverly Drive toward Turtle Creek.
Back on that New Year's resolution, I hasten to add that most of the participants in the anti-toll road campaign are far better persons than I. I bet not a one of them is hoping for a flood the way I am.
In particular, I came out of the whole thing with an enormous admiration for Dallas City Council member Angela Hunt, who certainly has never hoped for a flood in her life. Another thing I hope for this year, or the next, or the next, is her hour of reward.
In a year-end round-up story about city politics, The Dallas Morning News last week said, "many Dallasites now cast Ms. Hunt in the role of political cult hero" because of her role in the Trinity toll road election.
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I don't really see the 47 percent of the vote that she won as a cult. Given the juggernaut of money and pressure arrayed against her, I would say she emerged more as a formidable force on the city's near political horizon.
But then, what do you expect from the Morning News, really? My own feelings on that topic are so dark, I would direct the flood straight to the paper's front door if it were not for the danger this might pose to a certain family member who works there. I'd hate to be responsible for that bad hair day.
And I'm not. I'm not responsible for squat. I can't cause floods. You know that. I explained who caused this one. Not me. I just want to see it. So bad.
Picture me here at my desk. Holding the calendar with both hands. Dreaming. Oh, Year 2008. Bring it on.