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Up East Dallas Without a Paddle

Very mixed feelings about the city council briefing coming up this morning on proposed East Dallas storm-water projects. On the one hand, my paranoia is confirmed, which is always satisfying. On the other hand, there's not much I can do about it.

Yes, just as I thought, my house in East Dallas -- two miles from White Rock Lake and four miles from the Trinity River -- is subject to flooding, according to the graphics being shown to the council today.

I figured that out years ago. I have my own system of hydrological engineering assessment. During torrential rains I stand in my front yard and count the commercial dumpsters floating down my street.

A three-dumpster flood is serious. It means I have to hide in my house in case people outside start asking to be rescued. Damned whiners, always holding on to trees shouting, "Help! Help!" like I'm, what, Michael Phelps?

Anyway, the graphics for today's briefing show my end of my block as being subject to flood waters four- to six-feet deep during what they call a "standard project" flood or "100-year" flood.

Please don't ask me what any of that shit means. It means three-dumpster floods to me. In my experience, three-dumpster floods happen every five or six years.

The briefing today explains why they happen: "Undersized local drainage systems result in flows that back up along the surface streets."

Translation: Storm water pipes are too old, too small, clogged, can't handle the water. The briefing says what happens because of it: "The streets in these areas look like rivers." No translation needed.

So why does that make me paranoid? What, do I think the rain is aimed specifically at me? Let's discuss that another time. I have some things that might surprise you. But for now, no, that's not what makes me paranoid. Not the only thing, anyway. What makes me paranoid is that the solutions being proposed today at a cost of hundreds of millions of dollars -- solutions we have awaited with bated breath in my neighborhood -- will do nothing for us. Zip.

The Peaks Branch and Mill Creek storm-water project being proposed today will help the Baylor Medical Center and the Victory development around the American Airlines Center. But they won't do anything for the residential areas north of Baylor extending up through Old East Dallas to Mockingbird Lane and Greenville Avenue.

Those neighborhoods, according to the briefing, will have to wait for "future bond programs." But wait. The Mill Creek and Peaks Branch proposals are already dependent on a future bond program. So I guess my own neighborhood will have to wait for a future-after-the-future bond program.

It just worsens my sense of impending Third Worldliness. We'll all be living under bridges by then earning our livings weaving trinkets out of straw to sell to rich Mexicans.

I called Assistant City Manager Jill Jordan to ask why the areas closer to the river are getting the high-dollar flood-protection first, ahead of my area. She said, "With drainage, the normal approach is that you start at the downstream end and work your way up."

I can sort of see that. They can't give us huge new storm water pipes first at the upstream end and then just blast all that water straight into Baylor Hospital and Victory. It would be wrong to do that to the hospital, because they have sick people there. Victory we could talk about.

But it is what it is. This kind of issue is going to pop up in all of the older parts of town. It's not related to the Trinity River levees, and it is related. This is about flooding from storm sewers, not the river. But today's briefing represents an interesting change in thinking from a 2006 plan that would have routed storm water from the State-Thomas area straight to the river.

Under the new plan, they're going to push State-Thomas' water the other direction, to White Rock Creek, to avoid touching the Trinity River levee system or dealing with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. That shows how touchy the whole levee safety issue has become.

The briefing just barely touches on another note that actually goes straight to the core of local dogma about real estate development. The briefing says the State-Thomas area just north of downtown needs $59 million in new storm-sewer work.

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"Redevelopment over the years in the State-Thomas area has exceeded the capacity of local drainage systems and the existing Woodall Rodgers pressure sewer," the briefing says.

The mantra of City Hall has always been that all new development is good for the city because it "grows the tax base," but nobody ever puts a sharp pencil to the costs. Storm water is only one such cost. Nobody ever adds up the money given away in tax incentives and the cost to provide other kinds of infrastructure from fire stations to schools.

Those costs come along down the road, like this one, and the taxpayer is expected to eat them. Nobody ever knows what the bottom line is. Nobody even asks.

Let's talk later about the rain being aimed specifically at me. All I ask is that you keep an open mind. And a hat on.

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