Ever since Mayor Tom Leppert, City Manager Mary Suhm and Trinity River Corridor Project Committee chair Dave Neumann fired off a missive in which they claimed "public safety and flood control always come first," we've been trying to track down Kevin Craig, director of the Trinity project for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. We finally made contact on Friday with Craig, who spoke recently with The Dallas Morning News, and asked him a few questions about the Environmental Impact Statement related to the Dallas Floodway.
Craig explained that the EIS could not begin until Congress passed the Water Resources Development Act of 2007. As a component of the EIS, the corps is performing a comprehensive analysis of the Balanced Vision Plan -- the plan championed by former Mayor Laura Miller and adopted by the city council in 2003 that includes the levee raises, toll road, parks, lakes and other amenities.
"We want to look at everything else that is being proposed within the floodway to ensure that it can all work together without adversely affecting the flood-carrying capacity and integrity of the system," Craig tells Unfair Park.
Since Neumann canceled tomorrow's committee meeting, which has become such a regular occurrence that even The News has called him out on it, jump for the rest of our conversation with Craig to appease your Trinity appetite.
Obviously the unacceptable levee report in 2009 derailed the EIS, but can you explain how much progress had been made with the EIS between 2007 and that point?
We were still in the midst of doing some preliminary investigations from an environmental standpoint, and we were reviewing some of the preliminary designs of the parkway to see if there needed to be some adjustments to that to ensure that it could stay away from the levees because the original alignments were not acceptable to us. And we were establishing some of the existing conditions of the floodway as part of that '07 authorization.
So it's fair to say that even though the parkway is in a separate EIS that you had to be mindful of that part of the project when considering this EIS?
That's the reason we decided to do a comprehensive analysis is we didn't want to let one piece get so far ahead of the other that we're making a decision on something that could potentially preclude other elements that want to be constructed within the floodway to happen. So that's why we took this very comprehensive approach.
Let's say hypothetically that you didn't have to consider the parkway, is it likely that the EIS could have been completed by now if you didn't have to factor that in?
No, because when WRDA 2007 came out, it changed the scope of what we had been looking at before because now it was very specific on the concept of what they had identified. We still had to go through preliminary design of those components to a point that we could identify what were the potential impacts, what's the footprint of all those lakes and river meanders and ball fields and everything so that we could look and make sure that it is technically sound and environmentally acceptable. So that process just takes a while. So, no, we could not have finished by now.
If it was just about the levees -- if it was just about the flood protection, if it didn't involve parks and lakes and all that kind of stuff -- could you have gotten that worked on if it just had to do with the levee raises?
Um, I mean, it's difficult to say because we didn't go that direction, so I don't know. We're still in the process of updating all of the economic structure database and having to do ... We would still have to do an Environmental Impact Statement, so I would say no, we would not have gotten it completed by this point even if it was just the levee raises. Because even the geotechnical investigations that would have had to been done would not have allowed us to be completed at this time.
But it certainly has affected the timetable for everything.
Certainly, when you take a very comprehensive approach to multiple things being proposed, it's going to take longer. But the reality is we want to make sure that everything that's being proposed can be done in such a way that if at all possible it can all be put together.
I totally understand that from your perspective, but what my question to you is if the city had taken the position that its only concern is safety and flood control -- it just wants to do that; it doesn't want to worry about parks and roads and all that kind of stuff -- if that was its only concern, would that have been accomplished sooner than the timetable that we're on now?
Well, you have to consider also that with the periodic inspection that came out last spring, there had to be additional investigations associated with that. And so the city has been working very proactively to ensure that they are putting public safety first. And the geotechnical investigations that they started immediately after that inspection would have been much like we would have done as part of our EIS and feasibility study. So, to me, the city has put public safety first, and they are working very diligently to make sure that they are at the 100-year level by next year in order to make FEMA's deadlines.
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But what I'm saying is that the project on its face doesn't put public safety first if by its nature it delays being able to move forward with the levee raises. If by shoehorning in parks and lakes and roads and meanders and all that kind of stuff, if that delays the safety part of it, it's not putting it first.
Well, I won't get into an argument about that. I will say that for a system that has currently a 3 to 500-year level of protection ... A 500-year level of protection, for instance, is a 0.2 percent chance of a flood event set magnitude happening in any given year. So, with that level of protection, it's hard to say that there is an imminent danger of that being overtopped. Now what they are working diligently on is the technical soundness of the levee to meet the current geotechnical standards as quickly as we can.
Are you seeing any other issues arising with Margaret Hunt Hill Bridge?
We're not seeing any other things that adversely impact the system.