Merten just got back from City Hall, where the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers just got through telling reporters that 34 of the 170 areas of the Trinity River levees are "unacceptable." Sam will have more to come shortly -- including a surprise cameo appearance by Mitchell Rasansky, who had his own questions for the Corps and Mayor Tom Leppert -- but, till them, let me explain why this is big news.
See, the levees protect downtown Dallas from catastrophic flooding. According to the Corps, the levees are in bad shape -- City Manager Mary Suhm told the council that very thing today in a letter you'll find right here. (You'll also find her Q&A, in which she warns that the issues identified by the Corps could "affect flood insurance needs." This is big, people. Big.)
The levees won't do the job.
Our mayor was in Washington recently to talk to officials there about the levees. So, was he there to ask if the levees are safe enough? No. Was he there to push the Corps of Engineers and Congress to make the levees stronger? No. Was he there because he's worried about protecting lives and property? What do you think?
Leppert was in Washington going to members of the Dallas congressional delegation to turn the political thumbscrews on the Corps and back the Corps off from its diligence with regard to the levees.
Our mayor, with strong backing from the editorial page of the city's only daily newspaper, has always scoffed at concerns about the levees and flooding. Leppert and The Dallas Morning News have pushed instead for a kind of flood-control Russian roulette in which Dallas would subject the levees to enormous new stress by building a highway between them.
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Leppert was in Washington to try to do a political end-run on the engineers: With enough thumb screws, he thought he could force them to speed up their analysis of the toll road and its impact on the levees.
So what does today's announcement amount to? It's a huge call of the bluff. Leppert went to the pols. The Corps is going to the public. Now we have a new debate. A whole new debate. It begins with the knowledge that the levees are already compromised.
The new algorithm we have to work is one that measures the danger to downtown of catastrophic flood against the benefit of a highway that has always had weak traffic projections to begin with.
Tom ("The Riddler") Leppert says, "Take a chance." What do you say?