Meandering Back to the Trinity River Project -- Oh, What Memories!

Oh, what a nice morning. I had an opportunity to check back in on an old companion of mine, the Trinity River Project, and I'm delighted to say the old boy hasn't changed not a jot nor a tiddle. Still dressed to the nines, lying through his teeth and playin' the game.

The Trinity River Committee of the Dallas City Council gathered in the big conference room behind the council chambers at 9:30 this morning for an update from city staff. As luck would have it, the staff wanted to talk to them about one of my favorite topics, the $37 million "meanders" portion of the project that was not included in the $84 million approved by voters 10 years ago. (That's it up above.)

After the jump, a memory jog and then, a sprint to the finish, wherever that is.

In 1998, when the Trinity River Project was placed before voters, then-Dallas Mayor Ron Kirk swore up and down that $84 million was all that Dallas taxpayers ever would spend. That was a big part of the pitch. We were going to put in a mere $84 million. The feds and the state and various unnamed philanthropists would come up with the rest of the total cost, which could be in the billions.

Then the city started adding on unpaid-for extras, such as the "meanders." As a result of decades' worth of excavation and levee building, the river supposedly is too straight and narrow.

Aesthetically minded persons in our city believe that the river should "meander" -- as in, curve around. You know -- bend. The way it used to.

Cost for bending the river? About $37 million to the city.

Problem? The $37 million wasn't in the $84 million, which is already budgeted for other things.

Solution? Sneak it into subsequent bond programs, but don't tell the voters that's what the money is for.

Reason for not telling? The voters are stupid. They'll never know.

And Kirk and his comrades did promise $84 million was all we would spend. So they put the money for the meanders into the 2006 bond program and didn't tell anybody. When astute voters called it to my attention, I asked City Manager Mary Suhm about it. She said, "While those items relate to the Trinity, I don't know that I would call them a Trinity project."

I asked then-Mayor Laura Miller about it. She said flat-out the money being spent down in that meander region was for flood control and in no way had anything at all to do with the Trinity River Project.

So today -- in the conference room where urban land man Marcus Wood, former city council member Craig Holcomb, TV newsman Brad Watson, myself and maybe two other people were the whole audience -- this particular chubby little chicken came home to roost.

The staff showed the Trinity River Committee a nice graphic of the way the meanders area will look when the area gets all meandered out about four years from now. This morning city council member Mitchell Rasansky asked, "Was this included in our $84 million? What, is this going to cost us extra?" Trinity River Project Director Rebecca Dugger answered, " I think it's $37 million."

Rasansky said, "Let me get this straight. About $37 million to make it look like this picture?"

"The blue part, yes," Dugger said.

She told him the money was not coming out of the $84 million. It was coming form the 2006 bond program. "From the pump station going over to the right, all the way to the right, all that is in a prior bond issue?" Rasansky said. As if they were the Vienna Boys' Choir, committee chairman David Neumann and Dugger said in unison, "That's in the 2006 bond issue."

I knew if I waited a couple years it would come out. By the way, the meanders thing is the least of it. Before they're done spending your money on this project, you'll be in for the whole billion. Ah, well. Always nice to catch up with an old friend. --Jim Schutze

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