Interesting story inside The Dallas Morning News today about cuts in the federal budget for the Dallas Trinity River levee project. I'm not saying The News story is any kind of propaganda. Just saying there's more there than meets the eye.
Here is what is sort of buried or smooshed over in The News's account, probably because their Washington guy doesn't quite get it, not because he's trying to cover something up. We have two distinct and separate Trinity River levee issues.
The first is the big Trinity River "Project," to raise the levees and build a highway out between them. The second is more recent and has to do with the levees we already have, just sitting there: Are they screwed because of poor maintenance, with or without the whole raising thing? If we never did the raising, would we still have to fix or replace what we've got out there now?
What's the difference, in terms of today's story? Mega.
Maintenance of the existing levees is a city responsibility, not federal. If the levees have to be substantially rebuilt, it's a hit in the billions of dollars. If the Corps isn't going to pony up that money, we will have to. It's huge.
Remember that in March of last year the Corps of Engineers "de-certified" our levees, saying they are unsafe. The reasons had everything to do with actions of the city, mainly in allowing utility companies to drill holes through the levees or the city having drilled holes of its own.
The News story points out that the first project -- raise 'em and build a road -- was treated with great suspicion by the Bush White House, which viewed it as a boondoggle based on phony data. The Bushies took the Trinity River Project out of the White House budget -- a very interesting story, never once explored or reported fully in The News. Wouldn't you think readers might have read that one?
Now, apparently, the Obama administration is looking at it the same way and slashing the funding accordingly. That's why almost from the beginning the Trinity project has been funded almost entirely with earmarks, mainly through Congresswoman Eddie Bernice Johnson. The project doesn't meet muster for a project funded the normal way. It's too flakey. The feds, I am sure, see it for what it is -- a spec road project disguised as flood control.
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Now, here's the question. Mayor Tom Leppert has been trying to fuzz over the trouble we face on de-certification by suggesting vaguely that there's a whole bunch of federal money about to be spent out there and everything will take care of itself so don't worry.
But today's story is a very strong indication of the contrary. The feds still don't want to fund the original raising of the levee project. We still don't know if the underlying levees -- the ones we've got already -- will have to be scraped and rebuilt as a separate second project. And if that does happen, why would we assume that the feds will ride in to our rescue and pay to bail us out of a responsibility that is ours by law?
What would responsible leadership be doing now in Dallas? Well, for my two bits' worth, I think responsible leaders would be preparing us for the real options we face. Leppert can't do that. He's a frozen-faced Johnny One-Note salesmanship motivation guy.
But it's out there. Just sayin'. Today's story is not a good indication.