What's the Catch?

Wait a minute. Before we snap to the conclusion that the new Trinity River plan unveiled last week by Mayor Laura Miller is yet another civic scam, know this: I've been sitting here for a week staring at it, and the more I stare, the more the hair stands up on the back of my neck.

Could this be a good thing?

Hey, are they trying to throw us off balance? For more than five years Dallas has been debating various eco-awful schemes for "fixing" the river where it runs through downtown, pretty much in the same sense you might get your dog "fixed." I decided a long time ago the final headline on this story would fall somewhere on a scale from "Disappointing but survivable" to "Herald of biblical end-times."

Then they throw us this curveball.

It's not perfect. There will be passionate objections, including those from people who say just leave the river the hell alone. And there always could be some super-secret fiendish business trick buried deep in the fine print, so that 10 years from now we will discover the Perot family actually owns the river. H. Ross himself will be out there with hands on hips and eyes bulging: "Now you people just take your paddles and skedaddle!"

I do think there lurks a hard-nosed sub-rosa lobby group out there that just wants a double-barreled Guns N' Roses truck route right up the river and damn the torpedoes. But nowhere is it written in stone that the troglodytes have to win every match-up in this burg.

We should allow ourselves at least a month of ogling, sighing and looking for good gossip on it before making any lasting commitments. But if it turns out to be as good as it seems at first blush, then this river deal will be a very big victory for the city's better nature. In that regard, I want to talk about two other issues in this town, one going on right now and another that took place between 1983 and '85, both of which support the idea that Dallas has a much better fundamental nature than sometimes is apparent. Taken together, all three instances may demonstrate that this is a whole lot smarter city than you might suspect if you were up on Mars reading the Morning News.

The other ongoing issue is skeeters. Citizen activists, to some extent marshaled by radio personality and daily newspaper columnist Howard Garrett, have been trying for several months to talk City Hall out of the kind of blanket, broad-band, kill-everything-flyin' mosquito spraying it did in response to last summer's West Nile virus scare. When I listened to city employees talk last week at a city council hearing on the question, it was pretty clear what the city had done last summer: Every time a dead bird was found with West Nile virus, they sent the fogging trucks out to spray neurotoxins on everything moving, including people.

And I think it was obvious why they did it: They're city employees; when citizens get excited, they want to be seen doing something, whether it does any real good or not. We call, they give a false appearance of jumping.

Garrett is an intriguing figure in Dallas. I have known him a little bit for years. I read his stuff sometimes, listen to him on the radio. Recently I heard him speak in person, and, I guarantee you, this is one of the most interesting speakers in Dallas, whether you care about gardening or not. (I don't at all, but I am forced to do a lot of hard work in a garden where I live anyway.)

Garrett comes to organic gardening from a decidedly un-hippie perspective. He was in the landscape business using typical chemical techniques when he decided that, among other things like maybe killing us, chemicals just don't work that well. They bollix up the soil and cause more problems than they solve. His particular brand of apostasy is to believe that 8 zillion years of nature are smarter than Texas A&M.

Garrett doesn't think we should poison ourselves if we can help it, but his main argument is that organic techniques are more effective and cheaper. He is managing properties such as the Frito-Lay national headquarters campus in Plano on a completely organic basis because he says he can make land look better for less money by keeping chemicals out.

He told me the other day he thinks Dallas is a major national center--maybe the major center nationally--for organic gardening. He measures by a typical Dallas yardstick: Forget about people's philosophies and just go count how many stores are selling the stuff. He concedes that Austin and San Antonio also have significant clusters of organic merchants, but he thinks Dallas is way ahead of them, storewise, and he claims we're even further ahead of places like Seattle that I would have associated sooner with organic consciousness.