FEMA's Maps More Evidence of City Hall Fiddling While Flood Threat Rises

Get your rubber boots out and put a clothespin on your nose. Large numbers of chickens will be coming home to roost in Dallas in the weeks ahead, as homeowners in Dallas come to grips with the Federal Emergency Management Agency's new flood maps for most of Dallas.

The maps were published a year ago by FEMA, but you haven't been hearing much about them from City Hall, have you? Well, some time in the next week or so the city will have to bite that bullet.

Two good sources tell me the staff has been going around to the city council in strictly one-on-one meetings -- so's not to have to convene one of those messy public hearings with the media present and so on -- telling them that next week the appeals period for the maps will begin. Apparently the city is going to have to make some kind of public declaration, and they want to get the council smoothed out first.

FEMA spokesperson Stephanie Moffett confirmed for me that the appeals period for new FEMA flood risk maps for Dallas begins September 12 and runs through mid-December.

What's this about, right? What do you mean, appeal a map? It means a hell of a lot if you own property that FEMA used to say was safe from flooding and now the new maps say it's not. It means you'll have to buy flood insurance. But bigger: It means you may get flooded.

The appeals process is pretty arcane. If you happen to hold a doctorate in flooditology or whatever it's called, or if you can hire someone with one, you can present scientific data to FEMA in an appeal arguing that their flooditologists are full of crap and your property should not be put in the flood risk area on the new maps. Otherwise, get out that checkbook and those water-wings, soldier.

The new maps were published a year ago. Why haven't you heard city officials talking about them? Well, they've been bizzy bizzy bizzy. They've been busy talking about that stupid damned Trinity River toll road that's never going to get built.

And the solar powered water taxis, let us not forget.

In the meantime, they haven't accomplished a damn thing about the city's aging, sometimes collapsing, flood water management system out in the neighborhoods. I'm talking about 50- to 75-year old storm sewers that are clogged or broken or too small to handle the runoff from big storms.

I didn't get a lot out of the FEMA lady about why certain areas have been changed. That's all flooditology. She just directed me to the website where you can look yourself up to see if you're screwed. It's www.yesyouarescrewedfool.com. No, it's not. Gosh. What a bad joke. It's actually here.

My two sources at the city tell me FEMA doesn't trust the city's older storm sewers any more. They say FEMA thinks some areas may flood because the sewers can't clear the water fast enough.

I know it's true on my street. We'll have a big two-hour rain, and everything is cool for the first hour. Then, bang! The street turns to whitewater. We've got dumpsters floating past us from a nearby commercial strip. It's scary. I keep expecting to see a huge wooden boat with giraffes looking out at me.

Then, bang! The floods disappear. That's a storm sewer issue. The storm sewers handle the water for a certain amount of time. Then they're full. They're already taking all the water they can, so if the volume from the storm keeps going up, all of that excess from the storm goes straight out onto the streets, and all of a sudden I've got Noah waving at me.

For the last 15 years Dallas City Hall has fiddled and twaddled and dawdled around about that damned toll road, and they haven't accomplished jack about taking care of the city's basic infrastructure. Not that they were entirely idle. You may remember that our august former mayor and council members bitched a whole lot about FEMA and the Corps of Engineers and the remapping of the Trinity River after the Corps discovered that the Trinity levees are no good -- as if the problem were the remapping, not the flooding.

Well, it looks as if they scored some points there, from their point of view. The new remapping does not include the Trinity River. The enormous swath of the city affected by potential flooding associated with the river is a big kind of gray zone on the maps. That area's new determination has been delayed. That's scary too. It's like a safety sheet on the elevator in your building where the inspectors have checked "Not really sure."

If you look at the FEMA web page, you will see little red blotches all over town, most of them near creeks that have been put into storm sewers. Those red blotches are the hot spots. I can offer only this advice drawn from personal experience: If you live in a two-story house in one of those red areas and you have multiple cats, keep the bad ones downstairs.

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