Good Houston Chronicle Op-Ed about Court Decision Against Corps

There was an interesting op-ed in the Houston Chronicle today about the recent federal court decision in New Orleans against the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.   The authors of Catastrophe in the Making: The Engineering of Katrina and the Disasters of Tomorrow argue against so-called “economic development” projects designed at the expense of the environment.  Good advice as the Corps considers the Trinity Toll Road:

At the center of the lawsuit is a shipping channel — the Mississippi River Gulf Outlet, or “Mister Go.” New Orleans sits 120 river miles from the Gulf of Mexico, and Mister Go was intended to provide a 75-mile long channel, straight to the Gulf.

Building Mister Go was a massive effort, moving more dirt than did building the Panama Canal. Politicians called it the “key to the region’s economic future,” providing a busy outlet for commerce.

Local critics predicted that, instead, it would be an inlet for marsh-killing salt water….

Unfortunately, while the flood concerns were largely on-target, the economic claims were not. Mister Go never delivered the boon it promised. What it did deliver, with every high tide and every storm, was salt water. That killed plants in formerly healthy wetlands. Once the plants died, soil would slump into the channel, after which we taxpayers would pay to dredge it again….

In hindsight, it all seems implausible. Unfortunately, it’s not just plausible — it’s being repeated all across the country. New developments in California sit below sea level and atop fault lines. In Missouri, strip malls and industrial parks have paved over floodplains. In North Carolina, tax dollars help speculators build expensive homes on fragile barrier islands.

That’s how the Growth Machine works. Ignoring environmental warnings and promising great economic rewards, a small number of speculators push projects that usually don’t help the economy and that, in the most severe cases, can actually destroy lives, costing billions of dollars.

That’s also the real significance of the judge’s decision in New Orleans: When politicians support economic growth at the expense of the environmental systems that protect and support us, we need to know that they may be talking about a kind of growth that we probably can’t afford.

We owe it to ourselves to learn that lesson before we fall for the same empty promises again.

Nice Shout-Out for got a nice shout-out in the Fort Worth Star-Telegram over the weekend in “Elected officials could better use the Web to stay connected.”  Columnist John T. Johnson writes that at-large Arlington councilmember, Jimmy Bennett, is putting together an interactive website based on mine.  “I find it commendable that two Metroplex politicians would be among the first to implement this type of interactive communication system. I would hope that elected state and federal officials will see the merits of this over what they currently have. Their sites limit the ability to meaningfully communicate.”

How Katrina Court Decision May Affect Trinity Project

Last week, a U.S. federal court judge slapped the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers up one side and down the other for its part in the Katrina tragedy.  Citing the Corps’ “monumental negligence,” Judge Duval berated the Corps for focusing on waterway improvements to satisfy the needs of commercial shipping interests rather than ensuring flood control safety for New Orleans residents:

[T]he needs of the maritime industry were a substantial focus for the Corps activities as concerned the [Mississippi River-Gulf Outlet project].  At the same time, however, the safety of the citizenry of the metropolitan New Orleans area was another of its charges….The tension as to which client’s needs were more important plays a decisive role in this tragedy….[T]he Corps clearly took the position that its primary mission was to keep the shipping channel open to deep draft traffic regardless of the consequences.

As the Corps reviews and considers Dallas’ Trinity Toll Road and bridges, this significant court decision underscores the Corps’ responsibility to place the safety of Dallas residents first.  A tension exists in Dallas, as it did in New Orleans, between transportation desires and levee safety.  This court decision leaves no doubt that safety must be paramount.

Today’s Dallas Morning News has a good story by Michael Lindenberger about the effect that the federal court decision may have on Dallas’ Trinity River Project:

The corps made big mistakes over the years leading up to Katrina, said University of Texas at Dallas President David E. Daniel, a civil engineer who was chairman of a national panel of civil engineers who reviewed the failure of the levees.[Daniel] said it’s easy for residents, in both Dallas and New Orleans, to overlook a potential for disaster. Catastrophe isn’t always the first thing Dallas residents think of when they view the usually docile Trinity River.“But I can speak to another parallel [between the situation here and in New Orleans],” he said. “Even in New Orleans these devastating hurricanes of the Katrina type are extraordinarily rare. Decades go by with nothing particularly serious happening. It lulls you into a false sense of security, until that extreme event hits.”

“The corps did not place the health and safety of the public at the top of their agenda,” Daniel said Monday. “Their designs were not safe enough. So we certainly would hope that they are being more deliberate now.”…


What Can You Recycle in Dallas?

Here’s some great updated info about what you can (and can’t) recycle in Dallas’ curbside recycling pick-up program, and what to do with the other stuff (from

What can be recycled? Just about everything! Think of these four primary types: PAPER, PLASTIC, METAL, and GLASS.  All of the following items may be placed (without sorting) in your blue cart or blue bags:

  • Paper products — Newspapers and inserts, magazines, catalogs, telephone books, mixed office paper, mail and junk mail.
  • Cardboard — Cardboard boxes, chipboard (like cereal and tissue boxes). Flatten all boxes to get more use of your cart.
  • Plastic Containers — Bottles (with or without caps), jars, containers with the triangle label symbol #1, 2, 3,4, 5, 6 and 7 (please rinse!). You’ll find the plastics number in a triangle on the base of the container. If in doubt, put it in the cart – and we’ll sort it out.
  • Metals — Containers made of steel, tin, and aluminum (please rinse!) Used aerosol (non-hazardous) cans are ok too. Sorry, no scrap metal pieces.
  • Glass — Unbroken bottles and jars of any color (please rinse!). Lids are ok.
  • Styrofoam — We’ve just added styrofoam – Food take-out containers ONLY (please rinse!)  [This info was erroneously posted on the city’s website.  Styrofoam is NOT collected for recycling at this time.] Continue reading

Protecting Real Neighborhoods from Disneyfication

Great op-ed today in the NY Times celebrating real neighborhoods and the zoning laws that protect them, and lamenting the Disneyfication of our cities:

It’s funny how we crave the authentic, the unspoiled, the genuine — the un-globalized and un-homogenized and un-gentrified — only to destroy them.  And then, as if in remorse, attempt to create unthreatening Disney versions of the authentic, the unspoiled and the genuine….

I’m grateful for my New York journeys and for the zoning laws that make them possible. Wholesale gentrification deadens. There’s an untamed thread that binds button stores and stir-fried intestines with chili: They’re genuine. The fight for the genuine in the world’s great cities is also a fight for jobs, workers and creativity.