Real Estate

While We Wait For Our Trinity Docs, We Dig Into Those Levees Repairs With the Corps

Two small but important bits of information from a long U.S. Army Corps of Engineers press gathering this afternoon:

First: In order to fix the Trinity River levee system, Dallas will have to build an impervious concrete-like barrier between the levees and the river.

Second: The barrier will have to extend down to bedrock, which in some cases is 100 feet or more beneath the surface.

That's a bunch of money. A bunch of money.

But let's be honest. In my too many years on the Trinity River beat, I find the one thing most members of the public most urgently want to know on this topic but are too shy to ask is this: What the hell is a levee?

A levee is a long 50-feet high dirt mound all along both sides of the river but a quarter-mile away from the river. The point is to hold all the flood water in when the river floods twice a year, so it won't flood the city and, you know, send a lot of baby carriages floating off to the Gulf of Mexico. Second big question a lot of people have: is it true that the city of Dallas wants to build a major highway right out in that area where it floods twice a year?

Yes, but we're not going to talk about that now. Why? Because it's Friday. It makes me too angry to talk about that. We'll talk about it another time, maybe when you're older.

So what on earth is an impervious barrier? In fact, what the hell is bedrock? Oh, just don't get all technical with me, O.K.?

They have to pour some kind of liquid crap on the levees that will harden into a waterproof skin, but thick enough so you can't break it with a baby carriage.

Bedrock is way down beneath the dirt. It's like, you know ... rock! It's the rock that is down there, underneath everything. Look, I was an English major. It's some kind of rock way down deep where fossils come from.

At today's press conference, Brigadier General Thomas W. Kula confirmed an answer to a question from the Dallas Observer that the impervious crap has to go all the way down to the level of the bedrock crap in order to keep water from seeping underneath the levees and washing them out the way some of the New Orleans levees were washed out in Katrina.

His exact remarks, when asked about this, were, "Yes."

Why is any of this important? Because the city of Dallas has to pay to fix the levee system, which is in a very serious state of disrepair because the city failed for decades to meet its obligations to maintain it.

City Manager Mary Suhm has been telling the city council the repairs can be done for less than $150 million, which means, she says, without a vote of the people to borrow more money.

But if the city is going to have to build a slurry wall down both sides of the river at great depths into the soil, the tab could be much more. Think more like a billion.

Kula explicitly declined to say how much of the levee system will have to be fixed in this way or how much it will cost.

At one point, a reporter from Fort Worth asked, "Were the levees built on sand?"

I reported that crap two years ago. What's he doing, asking a question like that now? Is he trying to undermine me? Anyway, Kula had the right answer:

"There's cases of sand existing within the levees, Kula said, "[and] within the floodway itself through various features. I guess the answer to that is that there's sand out there everywhere."

The reporter asked if the sand is what would allow the flooded river to wash away the levees "In many cases, yes," Kula said.

At the end of the meeting, I was given an orange gift bag containing a "Bobber the Water Safety Dog" coloring book and Bobber water glass.

I was cool with that.

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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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