What in the Wide World of Sports Does a HUD Secretary Know About Levee Safety?

Unintentionally hilarious item in The Dallas Morning News today: "Council's Frustration Spills Over," by Rudy Bush on the Metro front, in which council member par excellence Ron Natinsky asks a deputy secretary of the Department of Housing and Urban Development if he can help get the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers off the city's back on the issue of Trinity River levee repairs.

First off, in terms of lobbying strategy, this is sort of like, "Hey, you work for the government, right? Do you know Obama?"

Ron Sims, a deputy secretary of HUD, was here to talk about federal grants for housing, transportation and the environment. But Natinsky got up and bitched to him about how problems with the Corps are slowing down the Trinity River project.

This happens to be an issue I have been working on all week for a column for next week's newspaper. When you realize the real-life risk to life and property posed by the deficiencies in the Trinity River levee system -- and, believe me, it's staggering -- an outburst like Natinsky's is disturbing at a whole new level having nothing to do with the fact that he's ranting at the wrong guy.

The actuarial tables show that residential property-owners who think their property is now protected by the levees are actually at a 700 percent higher risk of disaster since the discovery by the Corps last year that the city of Dallas hasn't maintained the levees.

Natinsky is whining about having to do anything to correct that problem. But, worse: He and the mayor and most of the city council are trying to push back the date when they have to inform the public of the real risks.

And all the while they keep talking about how important it is to move ahead with that unfunded toll road they want to build out between the levees where it floods.

You know why this bizarre outburst really happened? Because they all see a very big shoe-to-fall looming up there right over their heads. They can get lots of earmark money to cover their funding gaps, and they can some political cover from the congressional delegation on the maintenance deadlines.

But they can't change the risk posed by bad levees. Or the fact that it was the city's fecklessness that allowed that risk to become what it is.

Picture Natinsky with snakes painted on his head like Marlon Brando in Apocalypse Now. Only instead of, "The horror! The horror!" he keeps muttering to himself, "The risk! The risk!"

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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