Let me ask you a hypothetical question. Imagine your neighbor has a burned-out VW van, six broken, badly stained toilets and part of a rotten skateboard ramp in his front yard. You call the city on him.
How would you like it if the city inspector told the guy he could keep the burned-out van and his stained toilet collection if he agreed to get rid of the ramp? No, you wouldn’t like that. You would wonder what the hell kind of a city you lived in. Well that’s exactly the deal the Dallas City Council is giving itself on the whitewater feature in the Trinity River.
Joe Pappalardo reports that the City Council decided to remove the bare minimum amount necessary of concrete and steel from the fake kayak rapids the city built in the Trinity River six years ago. In other words, it's doing just enough to get the city out of legal trouble with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.
The city will leave in place a massive amount of concrete along the banks of the river near the Santa Fe railroad trestle and even more concrete and steel underneath the river. The council hopes pulling out the visible junk-pile it created in the middle of the river will get the city out of hot water with the federal agency charged with maintaining the navigability of American rivers.
The so-called whitewater feature was built because the group pushing for a massive new toll road along the river wanted to show that the river with a highway on top of it could be a lot of fun. At one point, it also talked about putting the world’s biggest Ferris wheel down there. It’s what I call the “fun stuff for idiots” approach to winning over voters. The group thought if it built a kind of poor man’s Six Flags amusement park along the river and tied it to the tollroad, then all the poor men would support their toll road.
The idea went downhill from there. Some group of rich people had seen a whitewater park in a town in the Rocky Mountains — people kayaking in the middle of town — and thought, “Oh, let’s get one of those and bring it home.”
Yeah, but bring home one of what? One rocky mountain? One narrow stream full of boulders and the right angle of descent? One mountain climate? One different planet?
The group did it anyway — using city money, of course. The design process was taken out of the hands of people who actually do things like this and understand rivers, hijacked instead by city engineers who design storm drains for shopping centers.
Surprise, surprise, the thing came out looking and working like a storm drain for a shopping center. It was so dangerous the city had to close it the day it opened. And then it just left it there until the Corps of Engineers threatened to cut off the city’s water supply if the city didn’t fix it.
Even then, the city balked and argued. The city was like that neighbor I’m talking about, standing out on the yard in his undershirt with his can of beer in a koozie, telling the inspector, “Dang, man, them terlets is art.”
This comes down to a simple but important question of stewardship. It’s like the gigantic 20-acre moon crater the city allowed a contractor to gouge out of the Great Trinity Forest three years ago to get fill dirt for a new golf course nearby. (By the way, I am coming back to that topic in the next day or so.)
In February the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality published a report on the pit. State inspectors documented an almost total lack of remediation three years after the city got caught with the pit in the first place.
The report shows the same thing illustrated by the masses of concrete and steel the city plans to leave in the river. Both are depredations of nature. Both convey a lack of conscience, responsibility and sense of stewardship.
The same people who behave this way tell me that the river is nothing but a sewer anyway and the forest nothing but a dump. Yes. If you treat them that way. Your yard will be a dump and a sewer if you cover it with broken toilets. And then what? Shrug and ask who cares because it’s a mess anyway?
For years, the Observer has been telling you about people like Trinity River outfitter Charles Allen and naturalist Ben Sandifer, who, along with a very small army of ardent advocates, have called the city’s attention to the majestic natural beauty lying just beneath that layer of insult and neglect. Nature lies before us, treasure beneath our feet, waiting for us to see.
Here’s the thing about stewardship and the lack thereof. The same people who want to build that new highway along the river have always told us they will also be the stewards of the river and the forest, yet what does the evidence tell us? They gouge craters in the forest for their golf course, heave masses of concrete into the river for an amusement park ride, and then, when it’s a problem, they walk. They just leave it all there. Terlets in the front yard, who cares?
Or maybe it’s that it’s not really their front yard. Most of the people pushing City Hall to build the tollroad and do these other things have magnificent front yards. Just not in Dallas.
I don’t know what it is exactly. The good news is that a minority group on the City Council despises what’s going on with the river and the forest. The majority, however, thinks that the crater left in the woods and the concrete left in the river are acceptable. Those two things should tell us everything we need to know about the group's sense of stewardship.
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Stewardship is an all-important issue as the city approaches the creation of a semiprivate “limited government corporation” to manage the flood plain. The last people who should be anywhere near that thing, if it ever gets created, are the city staff and the members of the community who were involved in either the whitewater feature or the golf course crater.
We have interesting new faces on the City Council as of the recently completed election. They are not yet seated. When they take office, we can always hope for a new, smarter majority.
In the meantime, however, the whitewater feature and the crater are disqualifying events. Your neighbor with the burned-out van and the rotten ramp in his front yard is not going to be nominated for the neighborhood beautification committee. By the same token, the City Hall staff members and their supporters in the community who have been responsible for the crater and the whitewater feature should have nothing to do with future stewardship of the watershed. We already know all we need to know about their ideas of stewardship.