Real Estate

What a Litttle Protection Between Friends? Corps, City Differ Over Levees Safety Standards.

Wow. I think Dallas Assistant City Manager Jill Jordan broke a major national story at today's meeting of the Dallas City Council Trinity River Corridor Project committee. She told the committee that the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers -- the quasi-military agency in charge of the nation's flood control levees -- is thinking about reducing its safety standards for levees by almost 40 percent.

Before we go further, let me tell you that the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers major and two PR people out in the hallway with him after the meeting all stared at me with eyes like silver dollars and swore they had never - never ever ever - heard that before.

"I have never heard that," said Col. Richard J. Muraski Jr. "That has never been shared with us."

Jordan's presentation to the committee stuck to what has been a standard line of city management since 2009 when FEMA decertified the Trinity River levee system. City staff has always told the city council that the feds want levees to be way too safe! Way too safe.

At this briefing, Jordan told the committee that the feds are probaly going to come way down on their requirements soon anyway. The technical term for what they require now is the "800-year flood" level of protection. It's technical. But Jordan said the feds are probably going to reduce that to a 500-year-level.

Eight hundred compared to 500 - that's not technical. That's arithmetic. And money! The lower standards would be way way cheaper to do.

That would be huge. It would be major news for cities all over the country struggling with levee safety issues. Muraski told me in no uncertain terms that nobody in the Corps is even thinking about such a reduction in standards.

"There is no standard to go to a 500-year flat level of protection," he said.

But after the meeting when I spoke with Jordan, she suggested she knows more about this than the good colonel. "What happens in Washington may not trickle down to the folks here," she said.

So, damn! You read it here first, America. The Corps of Engineers is dialing down -- way down! -- on national levee safety. According to Jill Jordan. Who works for the City of Dallas. I wouldn't say you can take that to the bank, but I think you could take it to a payday lender.

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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