We Need a Boatload of Money for the Trinity, and It Ain't Coming from Washington

We're screwed: Interesting story inside The Dallas Morning News on Tuesday about cuts in the federal budget for the Dallas Trinity River levee project. We're not saying the Morning News story is any kind of propaganda. Just saying there's more there than meets the eye.

Here is what is sort of smooshed over in Morning News' account: Dallas has two distinct and separate Trinity River levee issues.

The first is the big Trinity River "Project," to raise the levees and build a highway out between them. The second is more recent and has to do with the levees we already have: Are they screwed because of poor maintenance, with or without the whole raising thing? If we never did the raising, would we still have to fix or replace what we have now?

What's the difference, in terms of Tuesday's story? Mega.

Maintenance of the existing levees is a city responsibility, not federal. If the levees have to be substantially rebuilt, it's a hit in the billions of dollars. If the Corps isn't going to pony up that money, we will have to.

Remember that last March the Corps of Engineers "decertified" our levees, saying they are unsafe. The reasons had everything to do with actions of the city, mainly in allowing utility companies to drill holes through the levees or the city drilling holes of its own.

The Morning News story points out that the first project—raise 'em and build a road—was treated with great suspicion by the Bush White House. Now, the Obama administration is looking at it the same way and slashing the funding. That's why almost from the beginning the Trinity project has been funded almost entirely with earmarks, mainly through Congresswoman Eddie Bernice Johnson.

Now, here's the question. Mayor Tom Leppert has been trying to fuzz over the trouble we face on decertification by suggesting vaguely that there's a whole bunch of federal money about to be spent out there, so don't worry. But Tuesday's story is a very strong indication to the contrary. The feds still don't want to fund the original raising of the levee project. We still don't know if the underlying levees—the ones we have already—will have to be scraped and rebuilt as a separate second project. And if that does happen, why would we assume that the feds will ride to our rescue?

What would responsible leadership be doing now in Dallas? Well, for Buzz's two bits' worth, we think responsible leaders would be preparing us for the real options we face. Leppert can't do that. He's a Johnny One-Note salesmanship motivation guy.

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Jim Schutze has been the city columnist for the Dallas Observer since 1998. He has been a recipient of the Association of Alternative Newsweeklies’ national award for best commentary and Lincoln University’s national Unity Award for writing on civil rights and racial issues. In 2011 he was admitted to the Texas Institute of Letters.
Contact: Jim Schutze

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