Democracy in action last night. Never a pretty picture.
The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, which is in charge of flood control in this country, held a meeting at City Hall to update the public on the Trinity River Project, a massive campaign of public works that has dragged on without significant progress in the center of our city for 15 years. Perennial city council candidate and community activist Gwain Wooten was there to take it in.
Wooten, an aging City Hall gadfly, came in with a cadre of supporters halfway through the session. Apparently she was disconcerted to see an army colonel in camo seated at center stage. Col. Charles H. Klinge is the new commander of the Fort Worth District of the Corps.
"I know we got a bunch of police in church and schools and buses and everything," Wooten said from the audience. "But we gotta have the military in this to fix the river? How did the armed forces get involved in fixing a river?"
Wooten came into the room just in time to hear Rob Newman, a civilian engineer with the Corps, explain a concept for "armoring" some levees, which means covering them with concrete pavers so the dirt underneath won't wash away in a flood.
"You all are fixing to fix up a beautiful river that's full of blood and lead and dead people and everything," Wooten said, citing things that were all partially true, also all partially crazy.
"What's going on?" she demanded. "That's what I want to know. You all are talking about putting some armor, military terminology, in a river, and I don't understand that. Armor is armor."
When Newman, the engineer, explained that his agency doesn't have anything to do with the dead people or pig blood in the river that have made news in the recent past, Wooten, seated right behind me, grumbled to herself, "I'm fixing to go. This ain't my meeting."
Look, Wooten is only an extreme example of how people in general just do not get water, especially when it has to do with flood control. Tell people what the Corps is really telling us now -- that they're going to build higher dikes and bigger dams -- and everybody assumes we're going to be safer.
But the Corps and its partner in the Trinity River project, the city of Dallas, know full well that the opposite is true. The more we mess with the river, the more dirt we pile up, the more we try to push it around for whatever reason, the more of an A-bomb we're building in our midst. All of that structure in the way of the water just builds up the pressure and makes the eventual catastrophe that much bigger and that much more inevitable.
Real solutions entail controlling run-off, which entails controlling development, which entails land-use reform, which entails being English. Which we ain't. (More on this in my column in the paper next week.)
Wooten got away before I could go whisper in her ear: "Gwain, two words. Agenda. Twenty-One." Hey, sorry, but if the public can't be informed and critical, at least the public can be paranoid. Next best thing, in my book anyway.