Is Irving Ahead of Dallas in Preparing for Global Trade When the Panama Canal Expands?

Time to read the tea leaves. Avi Selk at The Dallas Morning News is report-tweeting this morning that the Irving City Council has slapped its mayor by voting to pay transportation consultant David Dean all of the two hundred grand he billed the city after his contract with the city expired last September.

Two hundred grand? No contract? Consult what? Yeah. That's the question. What is he consulting on that's worth that much money?

It's a question the damned Dallas City Council would be asking itself if it had even half a brain, since he used to be our consultant. What does David Dean do for Irving that's worth a hundred large a month?

Clue: One detail that popped out of the pay-David-Dean debate in Irving is that he traveled recently with Irving City Council member Rose Cannaday to look at the Panama Canal. OK, is that a joke? Like, "Come see the Panama Canal with me. Then give me 200 grand."

No, no, it's not a joke. In fact I suspect it's what this is all about. Look, Dean is the No. 1 make-it-happen transportation consultant in Texas and one of the big players in the country. He is all about the so-called "inland ports," the huge shipping and warehousing centers like the one Dallas is trying to develop in southern Dallas. In fact, back when the Dallas inland port development was going and blowing, before Dallas County Commissioner John Wiley Price and the North Central Texas Council of Governments sand-bagged it, Dean was Dallas' consultant.

The guy does get paid millions. It pisses me off, because I want them to pay the millions to me. But they won't. So why do I think he can charge like that? Simple. He makes things happen. Major things. Things worth billions. Pay a million, make a billion. Like that.

Do you remember Governor Rick Perry's Trans Texas Corridor scheme? I did some reporting on this last October when Perry was a big deal in the Republican presidential primary, talking to former Dallas City Council member Bill Blaydes, current member Sandy Greyson and others about their memory of that debate back in 2002/2003.

Most of them thought Perry's proposal for a high-tech transportation corridor from Mexico to Oklahoma was a great idea at first -- until it got to Dallas/Forth Worth. For some bizarre reason, Perry's go-to guru on the thing, the late Ric Williamson, who was Perry's appointee as Texas Transportation Commission chairman, insisted on a route that would have bypassed both the southern Dallas inland port site and the Perot site at Alliance Airport near Fort Worth. Nobody could get Perry or Williamson to listen to reason.

David Dean was the guy who went out there and took the whole thing down. He put together a consortium of communities and politicos all across Texas and took it down to Austin and used it to stop Ric Williamson in his tracks. That's the level of stuff he does.

Listen, me and my neighbors got into it with him years ago over an addition he wanted to build on his house in our neighborhood, which is in a historic district. I will spare you the boring details, but basically he lobbied the landmark commission, the City Council, and for all I know the Vatican, and he whipped our asses.

I could probably still get all bitter about it, but at least I learned one thing: Every little chance you get, try not to get into it with David Dean.

So what is the untold story behind all of this sturm und drang in Irving over whether or not to pay Dean for his consulting services? And why don't I just call him up and ask? Yeah, maybe I'll try that. Again. But I know the answer. Mr. Dean holds his cards very close. He's not going to tell me Jack.

But the trip to Panama tells it anyway. Dean is all about the ongoing deepening and widening of the Panama canal to accommodate the new super-ships hauling freight from China and where that freight's going to go. He is convinced a lot of it will stop in Houston and come up into the continent from there by rail.

The Dallas/Fort Worth area happens to be right in the big middle of that pattern, the bull's eye for distribution hubs. And if that hub does come here, some community or entity within this area is going to get the big leg-up on everybody else. Will it be the Perots? Will it be southern Dallas? Or ...

Irving? Irving? Really? I don't know. All I know how to do is look at the map. The biggest freight hauler in the region is Union Pacific, which happens to have big lines through Irving. Is Irving a strategic location? Probably above my pay-grade.

But this is what I definitely can tell you from my pay-grade. They're not paying David Dean a hundred grand a month to play tiddlywinks for them. Irving didn't just have a major melt-down/blow-up on its council, slap down their new mayor and give Dean two hundred grand in uncontracted payments because they like him.

He's getting something done for them. Something worth a lot of money. Something to do with the Panama Canal. It's a very big long game. And we're not in it. Those are my tea leaves for the day. Read 'em and weep.

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Jim Schutze has been the city columnist for the Dallas Observer since 1998. He has been a recipient of the Association of Alternative Newsweeklies’ national award for best commentary and Lincoln University’s national Unity Award for writing on civil rights and racial issues. In 2011 he was admitted to the Texas Institute of Letters.
Contact: Jim Schutze