City Hall

Wait a Sec. There's Something Wrong With the Levees? Somebody Tell Carolyn Davis ASAP!

If little else, attending Trinity River Corridor Project Committee meetings is a constant reminder of the jaw-dropping ignorance of council member Carolyn Davis. After an hour-long presentation this morning updating the committee on the city's 100-year remediation plan for the levees, Davis wrapped up by tagging the phrase "since we're OK with the 100 year" onto a statement about landowners' ability to obtain building permits.

"See, we're not OK yet," Assistant City Manager Jill Jordan stressed. "We've got a plan to make sure we're OK."

"OK, so it's a question mark," Davis responded.



This, by far, is the most important project on the city's to-do list. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers informed city officials in February 2009 that the levee system was "unacceptable" and no longer protected Dallas from 100-year floods. Since then, the city has been scrambling to fix the 198 items that the corps said needed to be repaired. (Thus far, 191 have been addressed.) And, more important, it has been working to implement a plan to restore the system to the 100-year protection it previously provided before the Federal Emergency Management Agency remaps the flood zones at the end of the year. Failure to do so would cost countless businesses and homeowners millions of dollars in flood insurance.

I know this. You know this. Unfortunately, Davis doesn't.

Jordan assured the committee that the original cost estimate of between $100 million and $150 million to reestablish the 100-year protection remains accurate based on early testing of the fully softened shear strengths, which essentially measures the strength of the soil that composes the levees. As of the end of January, the city had received 52 of those tests, or approximately 30 percent of the total.

Those tests have yet to reveal anything that would require more than the installation of seepage cut-off walls at various points throughout the system, which, as you might guess, prevent the seepage of water into the levees that could compromise their integrity. Those walls as currently proposed are three feet wide and would be submerged underground. Once the soil tests are complete, the exact locations of the walls will be determined. While a graphic presented to the council had a wall placed at the toe of the levee, Jordan said they could be constructed as far as 85 feet into the floodway.

The city is also conducting multi-point liquid limit tests, which helps the corps characterize the soil types in the system to ensure it doesn't collapse. Those results are expected in April, shortly after the remaining fully softened shear strengths testing is complete.

Because of the Trinity project, the city has a cost-sharing relationship with the corps. However, Jordan said the city could pay the entire bill if the fixes aren't deemed integral, and that determination won't be made until the completion of the Environmental Impact Statement for the system, which is expected in May 2014.

The funding for the potential $150 million tab is set to come from a reallocation of previous bond program projects dedicated to flood protection, Stormwater Department funds and Dallas Water Utilities funds. Council member Vonciel Hill asked Jordan why the city can't use funds from the Trinity Parkway project, and Jordan said that dough is tied up because of the 1999 contract signed with the North Texas Tollway Authority. Only after the completion of the toll road's EIS sometime in 2012 can the city use any remaining funds, Jordan said.

"There are rarely, rarely items in law that cannot be undone," Hill said, instructing Jordan to meet with city attorneys to find a way out of the contract.

Hill also mentioned the city's time line to meet FEMA's December deadline.

"This seems to me to be a very aggressive schedule," she said.

"Yes, ma'am, it is," Jordan said.

"What makes us think we can reach these goals this quickly?"

"The corps has a big part of this in that they have to review the plans, review the permit applications, issue that 408 approval and approve that environmental assessment. And that requires headquarters to help them do that. So, the corps has already put in place a process working only through their chain of command to get this done. So people know the schedule. They're on standby. ... At this point, it's a tight schedule. It's an aggressive schedule. ... Everything is going to have to line up and go very quickly."

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Sam Merten
Contact: Sam Merten