Mayor Tom Leppert reluctantly addressed local media this afternoon regarding City Manager Mary Suhm's earlier announcement that the Trinity River levees will be rated "unacceptable" in 34 of 170 areas by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers in advance of a March 31 deadline. He stressed that safety remains the city's No. 1 priority, and the Trinity River Corridor Project remains on track.
Following the flooding in New Orleans resulting from Hurricane Katrina, the corps developed a levee safety program. This new rating system was used in Dallas during its five-year periodic inspection in December 2007, which led council member Mitchell Rasansky (who was sitting in the audience) to ask why it took so long to find out what was going on.
"The simple answer is it didn't happen as quickly as we wanted it to," answered Kevin Craig, the new liaison to the project.
Joining the mayor and Craig were council members Dave Neumann, Dwaine Caraway, Ron Natinsky and Sheffie Kadane, along with Brigadier General Kendall Cox, commander of the corps' southwestern division. The consensus among Leppert, Craig and Cox was that some of the 34 issues can be fixed quickly, while others will take longer. But, right now, nobody knows how long it will take to repair the levee system.
Among the 34 problem areas includes vegetation growth around the levees, erosion problems and existing structures that affect the levees such as the columns for the Margaret Hunt Hill Bridge. Craig said diaphragm walls may be needed around the columns. "It's something that we're going to have to go back and do more investigations to ensure that all of the pathways underneath the levees and support are intact to make sure that those don't impact the levees."
Craig added that an inquiry from the Federal Emergency Management Agency is anticipated, and it's unknown whether flood insurance premiums will rise for businesses surrounding the floodway.
Leppert claimed components of the Trinity project may help fix some of the 34 issues, and he said the Trinity toll road continues to move forward.
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Rasansky, a supporter of the road, may be souring on the project, as we noted previously. We caught up with him after the press conference where he was visibly upset.
"I really don't want to comment on this," he said. "This is just really depressing. Absolutely depressing."
Rasansky noted that it was said several times that more information was needed regarding the impact on the Trinity project, prompting him to wonder why the city continues to spend millions to move it forward.
"What is this all gonna cost?" he said. "I wish I would have known all this when...I'm just upset."