Woodard: River vision – money meandering down the drain

Don Woodard

The Dallas Morning News reported recently that the Dallas Floodway needs more than half a billion dollars worth of work – a project that involves moving the Trinity River to restore the river to its “historic natural meandering.”

Dallas taxpayers could be on the hook for more than $185 million of the $529 million project’s total cost, the newspaper said. Dallas City Council member Scott Griggs called the price tag “a staggering amount of money.” The federal portion of the money would come from congressional appropriations, according to the newspaper, which quoted Rob Newman, the Army Corps of Engineers’ director of the Trinity River Corridor Project: “It’s a huge cost.”

According to a feasibility study released by the Corps, the News reported, “the Trinity River near downtown Dallas should be moved – again – in order to restore an aquatic ecosystem damaged by the channelization of the 1920s and accommodate the long-planned six-lane toll road the city wants to build between the levees.”

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Newman explained: “The reason it was straightened was because it was a bypass channel in the ’20s when you didn’t think about ecosystem restoration. The Corps back then wasn’t real environmentally friendly.”

All of this from a now “environmentally friendly” Corps that would change the course of the Trinity in Fort Worth from its beautiful, naturally meandering flow beneath the towering bluffs where Ripley Arnold built his fort in 1849. All of this from the same Army Corps of Engineers that is hellbent to cover up the God-given confluence of the Clear and West Forks of the Trinity with a little puddle Town Lake and change its historic natural meandering into an engineer’s dream of a straight-as-an-arrow bypass ditch.

The city of Dallas would pay for its $185 million with money from upcoming bond programs and with private donations, Assistant City Manager Jill Jordan told the Morning News.

“At this point, we’ll work on it bond program by bond program and by the time we finish Phase 1, it will be time to plan the next bond program,” she said. “As we develop future bond programs – not only the one in 2017 but the one four years after that and into the future – we’ll take off little chunks and we’ll time it with development activities.”

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Dallas voters first approved the Trinity River Corridor Project in 1998 by passing a $246 million bond package, which at the time was the largest in the city’s history. Sixteen years later, the News reported, “there are more packages on the horizon. And more after that.”

“Back in 1998 we thought we were going to be getting the project done all at one time,” Jordan told the paper. “Well, that’s not how it’s going to be. Just like we have Fair Park or White Rock Lake, we’re always working on it. The Trinity River’s just going to be like that.”

Fort Worth’s original $26.6 million commitment to the nepotistic Trinity Uptown boondoggle – some of it unknowingly approved by voters in 2004 and 2008 bond programs that effectively hid the money under the white sheet of street improvements – is now gone with the wind, spent or obligated even before the project’s critical bypass channel has been dug or three state-of the-art bridges have been built. Are new bond elections coming for little chunks? Time after time? Like in Dallas?

Dutch legend has it that there was once a small boy who upon passing a dike on his way to school noticed a slight leak as the sea trickled through a small hole. Knowing that he would be in trouble if he were late for school, the boy poked his finger into the hole and so stemmed the flow of water. Some time later a passerby saw him and went to get help. This came in the form of other men who were able to effect repairs on the dike and seal up the leak.

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Trinity Uptown boondoggle disaster! Little Mary Kelleher, poke your Profiles of Courage finger into the hole in the dam! Who knoweth whether thou art come to the kingdom for such a time as this?

Don Woodard is a Fort Worth businessman and author of Black Diamonds! Black Gold!: The Saga of Texas Pacific Coal and Oil Company.