The Trinity River's Disastrous White-water Feature May Waste Even More Taxpayer Money

Last week I was telling you how the city's so-called "white water feature," the fake kayak rapids they built in the Trinity River three years ago, is still there and still stupid, sitting out in the middle of the river like giant petrified elephant poop that nobody knows what to do with. Yesterday, The Dallas Morning News had a really good follow on it, pointing out in a very Morning News way (not exactly pointing it out) just how ridiculous the whole thing has become.

According to reporter Roy Appleton, the city has given up on actively forbidding people from paddling through the fake rapids just downriver from downtown, because they found out that they lack the authority to close a navigable river. But they're not exactly actively encouraging anybody to use it, because the thing is so screwed up that people might get killed, and, you know, cities shouldn't build stuff that kills people and then invite them to go use it. It's just not right somehow.

The truth about what the city is doing is a bit more complicated. Three years ago they really got on the muscle with Charles Allen, whose Trinity River Expeditions is the premier canoe outfitter on the river, threatening him with criminal prosecution (see letter below) if he even tried to use the parking lot to put canoes in the river below the white-water feature.

Allen was never going to put canoes in above the feature -- which is really a low concrete dam with water going over the top -- because then the only way for a canoe to paddle around the dam is through a so-called "bypass" that's so dangerous it's like dropping a banana into a Vita-Mix blender.

Why is it so dangerous? This whole thing supposedly is on the verge of litigation, so nobody will talk on the record, but I have been told by knowledgeable sources that the white-water feature is a mess because the city cheaped out on the design.

The design company, a Colorado firm, told them they wanted to design the entire stretch of river including the dam to make sure it all worked together. According to my sources, the city said no: They paid the design firm just to do the dam and then used their own civil engineers to design the canoe bypass on the other side of the river.

Kind of like, "No, you guys just design the hammer and the chamber of the gun, and we've got a kid who can do the trigger in-house with the computer." What a disaster.

I spoke with Charles Allen yesterday. Unlike the morons who put this thing together, he knows rivers. "In the area where they built it, the river has a drop of less than a foot per mile." He said the rich goofies who pushed this thing were basing it on rivers in Colorado that have drops from three to 10 feet per mile.

In a fast-dropping river, it's easy to create white-water. Just plunk some boulders in there. But in a big sluggish alluvial river like the Trinity, you have to create a massive manipulation of the river in order to get a wave out of it. "And that creates all kind of problems," he told me.

After the city threatened to arrest him for using the parking lot -- an exercise in sheer malevolence because he had criticized them publicly -- the city started padlocking the road to the parking lot. Curiously enough, however, someone was handing out the combination to the lock to certain groups of favored kayakers who were rumored to be friends of the rich goofies.

Someone obviously complained to the Corps of Engineers that the city and/or the goofies were treating the river as a private playground for a privileged few while threatening to send the cops after anybody else who tried to use it at that location. As Appleton's piece reveals, the city has stopped doing that and has removed the padlock from the gate.

At the end of the day after my piece appeared here last week, a city spokesperson called me to say that the city is "in talks" with the designers searching for a solution, as if that's supposed to make me or anybody else happy. Yeah, I could be in talks with them, too. I could say, "You guys fix it," and then they could say, "Kiss our asses." That's talks.

But here is another important factor in all of this. Dallas city councilman Scott Griggs has been pushing the city for months to tell him what they have done with the tens of millions of dollars already spent on all aspects of the overall Trinity River Project, a public works campaign to build a freeway along the river.

It took some tough tooth-pulling, but Griggs has uncovered that the city is sitting on $2 million to pay for whatever fix they come up with for the white-water feature. The thing has already cost $4.2 million. It was supposed to cost a mere $3.1 million. So now it's going up to $6.2 million.

Allen told me the dam is already silting in a long stretch of river that the corps has dredged on multiple occasions to make sure it can move large volumes of water out of the way during high floods, and he said it appears to be screwing up the mollusk, plant and fish populations.

So what about this with their $2 million? Why not spend that money blowing up the whole damn dam, hauling off the stone elephant poop and fixing all the damage left behind? Then we could all go canoeing again. Money well spent for a change, if you ask me.

City to Charles Allen Letter by Schutze

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